LAKELAND — The only thing that overshadowed Chris Walker’s triple-double was a dramatic finish.
The Holmes County senior scored 20 points while adding 13 rebounds and 13 blocks in leading his team past Hawthorne 51-48 in Tuesday’s Class 1A state boys basketball semifinal at The Lakeland Center.
Holmes County (19-8) advanced to play West Gadsden in today’s 3:35 p.m. CST state title game in what is the Blue Devils’ first championship appearance. Top-ranked Hawthorne, which finished as state runner-up last season, had a 14-game winning streak snapped and finished 28-2 with its first loss since Dec. 29.
Walker was fouled intentionally and also called for a subsequent technical foul with 4:34 to play and his free throw gave Holmes County a 41-33 lead. He spent the next two minutes on the bench, but his absence didn’t spark Hawthorne. The Hornets instead trailed by their largest margin, 46-34, on a pair of free throws by Jacky Miles with 2:49 to play.
Hawthorne pulled to within one point with a frantic rally late in the fourth quarter. The ability to not only remain in front but to increase the lead while their star player was on the bench was key in the Blue Devils’ victory.
They looked out of sorts late in the third quarter when Walker sat down with three fouls. Hawthorne closed to within two points at the end of three quarters, but squandered a chance to do damage with Walker sidelined in the fourth.
Leamon Wilson scored back-to-back baskets, including one on a turnover, to pull Hawthorne within 46-38 with 2:22 to go. Walker checked back in and re-established himself in the paint with his 13th and final block with less than 90 seconds on the clock. The score stood 49-40 in favor of Holmes County at that point. but it proved to be anything but a comfortable cushion.
Deandre Turner’s score off one of Holmes County’s 16 turnovers narrowed the gap to 49-42 with 55 seconds to play. Holmes County’s Clayton Keen missed a 3-pointer from the corner on the next possession. Jayquan Hamilton and Bryson Pittman, the latter making a first basket of the game, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cap an 8-0 run and give the Hornets hope and 14 seconds away from a title game berth.
Jonathon Williams made both free throws for Holmes County after a foul three seconds later. Hawthorne was unable to release a shot and Holmes County survived.
The game limped out of the gates with Holmes County leading only 2-1 through four minutes on a Walker field goal. The pace quickened and the Blue Devils built an 11-4 first-quarter lead while Hawthorne was cold from the field. The Hornets shot 1 for 14 in the first quarter and 6 for 31 in the half, including a dismal 1-11 from 3-point range.
Holmes County moved out to its largest first-half lead, 19-9, on two Ty Russ’ free throws midway through the second quarter. Hawthorne rallied with a Dionte Mann layin and a Hamilton 3-pointer to pull within 19-14 a minute later.
Chris Newton’s basket with one second left gave Holmes County a 25-16 halftime lead. Hawthorne hurt itself with the poor shooting, but only had one turnover in the first 16 minutes. Walker surged toward his triple-double with 13 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in the first half.
Hawthorne moved to within three points twice in the third quarter and pulled to 32-30 on Edward Porter’s score with less than a minute to go. Walker spent the last two minutes of the third quarter on the bench after his third foul.
Miles added 12 points for Holmes County, including nine from the free-throw line. He was 4 for 6 from the line during the fourth-quarter stretch with Walker on the bench. Russ chipped in eight points and his layup with four minutes to play gave Holmes County a 44-33 edge.
Porter scored 16 points and Hamilton 11. Hawthorne responded by shooting 7 for 15 in the third quarter and 31 percent for the game. Holmes County shot 37 percent and was 2 -12 on 3-pointers.
Walker’s dominance on the boards helped Holmes County to a 46-32 rebounding advantage. The Blue Devils enter today’s title game on a nine-game winning streak.
West Gadsden defeated Union County 76-51 in the other semifinal for its eighth straight win. The Blue Devils didn’t play the Panthers during the regular season.
HOLMES COUNTY (51)
TRuss 3 2-2 8, Miles 1 9-13 12, Williams 1 2-2 5, Thompson 0 0-0 0, Moore 0 0-0 0, Walker 9 2-4 20, Newton 2 0-0 4, Keen 0 2-2 2. Totals: 16 17-26 51.
Thomas 0 0-0 0, Pittman 1 0-0 3, Turner 3 1-2 7, Wilson 2 0-0 4, McKinnon 0 0-0 0, Hamilton 4 1-3 11, Ivey 0 0-0 0, Chisholm 1 0-0 2, Mann 2 1-2 5, Porter 6 4-6 16. Totals: 19 7-13 48.
Holmes County 11 14 9 17 — 51
Hawthorne 4 12 16 16 — 48
3-point field goals: Holmes County 2 (Miles, Williams), Hawthorne 3 (Hamilton 2, Pittman). Rebounds: Holmes County 46 (Walker 13), Hawthorne 32 (Porter 7). Turnovers: Holmes County 16, Hawthorne 11. Team fouls: Holmes County 17, Hawthorne 23. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: Walker.