Time was winding down for No. 2 Talladega (Ala.) in the quarterfinals of the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship on Saturday afternoon at Municipal Auditorium.
The Tornadoes faced a five-point deficit with 90 seconds remaining against Pikeville (Ky.), but a three-pointer by Talladega junior forward Courtney Mack tied the game with 43 seconds left and set the stage for senior guard Wendell Pierre.
After Talladega got a defensive stop, the game clock clicked under 5 seconds as Pierre drove into the paint and put up a soft 5-footer. The ball bounced on the iron and rolled in, giving Talladega a 64-62 victory.
“I knew I gave it enough touch,” Pierre said. “It didn’t act like it wanted to go in, but it finally gave in.”
The Tornadoes couldn’t celebrate until they prevented Pikeville from scoring in the final 3.8 seconds. The Bears’ desperation shot glanced off the side of the rim, sending Talladega‘s players into a wild celebration on the court.
The victory puts Talladega, 32-4, in Monday’s semifinals. The Tornadoes will face Dalton State (Ga.), at 6 p.m.
“It is a great feeling to help my team come this far and have a chance to win a national championship,” Pierre said. “It is what we came here for.”
The second half was filled with momentum swings. Pikeville held a 37-31 lead in the opening minute of the second half, but Talladega scored the next 14 points and grabbed a 45-37 lead. Pikeville responded with a 13-2 run to go back ahead 50-47. Talladega scored the next six points for a 53-50 lead.
“Isn’t that basketball,” Talladega coach Matt Cross said. “When two good teams play against each other you will see it from the NBA to Division I all the way down to high school. Basketball is a game of momentum. You have to have the mental toughness as a team to be able to handle the ebbs and flows.”
It appeared the last spurt by Pikeville would be enough to give it the win. The Bears were up 62-57, but Talladega scored the last seven points for the victory.
“We have an inner source of strength on our team,” Cross said. “We talked about five things before the game because everybody is gassed when you get to this point.
“It was going to be about toughness, will, desire, heart and the last thing we talked about was how much motivation you have to advance to the final four and be in position for a national championship.”