For The Independent
To Fleming County coach Mark Starns, an ugly win is sometimes better than a pretty one.
Thanks to junior guard Darion Burns, Starns could call Monday's game against visiting Rowan County one of the former. Burns' two free throws in the last three seconds were enough for the Panthers to escape with a 61-59 victory.
“A lot of grit, a lot of determination,” Starns said.
Besides erasing a 13-point Rowan County lead and beating the Vikings for the second time this season, Fleming County clinched the top seed in next month's 61st District tournament.
“We just have a lot fight in us,” Burns said. “We try to win every game, just play hard to the end.”
Burns hit his first free throw with three seconds left and made the other with 1.7 to go. Was he nervous as he prepared to hit the second one?
“I was a little bit,” Burns said. “But then I just stepped up to the line, focused in and hit the free throw.”
Rowan County called timeout after Burns’ second free throw, but Justin Graham's desperation half-court heave missed wide left.
Burns was also responsible for the Panthers tying the score at 59 with 1:47 remaining, when his layup converted Troy Steward's backcourt steal off Rowan County's Tyler Thacker.
Three statistics were repulsive for Fleming County (17-4): Rowan County's 17-2 margin in bench points; the Panthers' 26 rebounds to the Vikings' 39; and the 37-percent shooting from the field, including 3-of-21 from 3-point range.
Five others, if you were a Panther player or fan, were absolutely attractive: Burns' 18 points and Steward's 19; senior forward Desmond McAdams' three 3-pointers, Fleming County's only long-distance scoring; and 17-0 in points off turnovers.
McAdams was also the subject of a third-quarter controversy, when he drew a personal and technical foul when he pushed a Viking with 1:31 left in the period.
“That technical that he got, there was a lot of taunting and baiting, trash-talking, going on before that precipitated what happened right there,” Starns said. “I made it aware to (officials) that taunting and baiting was going on. If you address it before the game, there will be no taunting and baiting. Let's be consistent with that.”
Rowan County coach Shawn Thacker talked about his team's “composure issues” after the game.
“We've still got to grow up a little bit, knowing when to go, knowing when to whoa …,” Thacker said. “This team wants to go … Sometimes we have to learn when to get slow.”
From the opening seconds, some of what worried Starns' before tip time became reality.
Rowan County (12-9) opened with a 2-3 zone with 6-foot-11 Matt Brown in the middle, which effectively forced the Panthers to shoot from outside. The result: Fleming County, 0-of-10 from 3-point range in the first half.
Burns kept Fleming County close in the second quarter at 21-15 when he scored six points in one minute, but Rowan County pulled away with a 12-7 run over the final 4:49.
Thacker and Jalen Stone led Rowan County with 16 points each, and Josh Barnard grabbed 14 rebounds.
Fleming County 43
Rowan County 42
The Lady Panthers' Martina Lytle held her breath as the other nine players on the floor did — and then celebrated because her last-second shot bounced around the rim twice and dropped through.
“I didn't really know if it would go in,” Lytle said. “It was all or nothing.”
Fleming County thus erased Rowan County's 42-32 lead with 3:42 to go by scoring the final 11 points. Lytle grabbed the offensive rebound of Shayla Robinson's miss for her winning bucket, and Tierra Taylor added six points in the rally to go with a steal.
After Hannah Bandura's two free throws gave the Lady Vikings their last lead, Rowan County missed four free throws over the final 26.4 seconds. Coach Jen Williams said that wasn't the only reason her team fell.
“We missed (12) free throws,” Williams said. “We missed box-outs.”
Lytle, who also grabbed 13 rebounds, and Taylor led Fleming County with 12 points apiece. Candace Justice paced Rowan County with 11 points and 13 rebounds.