BRISTOLVILLE – With a Coca-Cola in hand, Mathews coach Jason Lee needed to sit down and catch his breath following his team’s sectional semifinal game at Bristol High School.
Considering the drama in the closing seconds, it’s understandable as to why Lee struggled breathing. The lead changed twice in the final 10 seconds, with the Mustangs’ Jeremy Forsythe finishing it off by hitting a runner at the buzzer to give Mathews a 57-56 upset win on Tuesday evening.
Forsythe’s buzzer-beating shot capped a late comeback for the Mustangs (10-13), who trailed by eight points with more than 3 minutes remaining in the game.
“Nine seconds seemed really long,” Lee said. “I was already having a little bit of trouble breathing after the whole stint before that, but it seemed like 9 minutes as they were coming up the court. When (Forsythe) took his final dribble and that ball went out, I think I was already six feet on the court.”
The drama started when Mathews senior Wyatt Ford split a pair of free throws with 19.8 seconds remaining to give the Mustangs their first lead since the 4:45 mark in the third quarter. Bristol (16-7) responded on its next possession, as Brandon Lee drove to the basket from the right wing and missed his original shot but made the putback to give the Panthers a 56-55 lead with 9 seconds left.
Not having a timeout, the Mustangs immediately inbounded the ball and eventually got it to Forsythe around the volleyball line with a handful of seconds remaining. As the 6-foot-2 forward had no teammates to help him out, Forsythe took a couple of dribbles to the foul line and let loose a runner with two defenders in his face. The ball bounced once off the rim before falling through as the clock expired.
That commenced the storming of the court by his teammates.
“I was thinking, ‘Well, nobody’s open, so I’ve got to take it myself,’ ” said Forsythe, who had eight points total. “I just floated it in there. Luckily, it went in.”
Forsythe’s shot didn’t seem possible halfway through the fourth quarter, as the Panthers held an eight-point lead as late as the 3:02 mark. That’s when the Mustangs came storming back, finishing the game on a 13-4 run over the final 3 minutes.
Defense played a huge role in the late-game turnaround. Mathews forced four turnovers and kept Bristol without a field goal until Brandon Lee’s at the end.
“It means a lot because you have a lot of people playing hard defense out there with a lot of those steals, making the offense come to life,” Jason Lee said. “We held them to 23 points in the first half – I was ecstatic. Then, you got defense coming back at the end of the game, winning the game for us – that makes my heart feel good.”
The comeback erased a big effort from Bristol senior Gary Hopson in the second half. Trailing by four at halftime – thanks in large part to Mathews’ Wade Sharp scoring 11 of his team-high 15 in the first two quarters – the Panthers pounded the ball to their 6-2 forward, and he delivered. Hopson scored 15 of his game-high 21 points in the first 11:30 of the second half.
Brandon Lee also went on a rampage in the second half, recording 13 of 17 points during that span.
“We’ve been preaching it the whole season – we’ve just been demanding it a little more these last couple weeks,” said Bristol coach Craig Giesy of getting the ball to Hopson. “Gary’s responded well. The guards finally started getting it (to him).
“I think that’s part of the reason this (loss) hurts so bad – we were finally starting to turn the corner, becoming a very good basketball team and just like that, it’s done.”
Mathews moves on to face another Northeastern Athletic Conference foe in Maplewood on Friday in a sectional final. The Rockets won the two regular-season meetings by two and 11 points.
“Bring on the Rockets,” Jason Lee said. “I’m hoping it’s the same kind of game this is because I’d rather have this kind of game than anything else.”