They sat in the corridor, heads bowed, stunned by the unexpected turn of events.
Some wept. Others appeared dazed.
There was no adequate answer for how No. 1 Dallas County lost on a buzzer-beater by Dora’s Caleb May on Wednesday night in the Class 4A Central Regional.
Hornets coach Willie Moore wasn’t at a loss for words, but he was certainly at a loss for understanding.
“We didn’t do anything right tonight,” Moore said. “We had our chances to win, we just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities earlier in the game when we were up 10. Uncharacteristically, we didn’t make our free throws and we didn’t defend well tonight.
“If I really felt like they were a better team, I would feel differently. But it’s not so much what they did as what we did not do.”
Whatever the reason, May’s runner in the lane with 1.4 seconds remaining lifted unranked Dora to a stunning 67-65 upset of Dallas County.
Stunning because the game’s premier player, Dallas County center William Lee, had dominated the first three quarters.
Stunning because the Hornets led by 11 points midway through the second quarter and by 13 midway through the third quarter before going more than seven minutes without a field goal in the fourth quarter.
Stunning because many of the nine fourth-quarter turnovers committed by the Hornets were unforced errors.
“We’ve never turned the ball over 24 times, and we turned it over 24 times tonight,” Moore said. “They had 30 points off of our turnovers. If you only turn it over 12 times, you win big.
“We dribbled the ball off our feet tonight. It didn’t have anything to do with them. There were times when we were late on passes across the middle. We were throwing it behind people. That’s a combination of what they did and us not being where we’re supposed to be.”
Until the late meltdown, the game was a showpiece for Lee, the 6-foot-9 junior who was watched by college recruiters as he played almost to his average with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocked shots.
“Initially, we wanted to give in to him,” Dora coach Michael Bridges said. “We had film on him, and saw how he swatted about 15, but after a while those legs get tired and he’s going to start jumping into people instead of straight up. It slowed them down when he got his fourth foul.
“But that was our game plan coming in — make him do what he does, try to block shots, and toward the end, if we kept attacking, he was going to start jumping into people and get fouls. But he was a great player.”
Ultimately, the Hornets’ self-destruction came in the final seven minutes of the game when, leading by nine points, the guards missed three shots and committed nine turnovers.
“This team creates turnovers,” Bridges said. “We were kind of getting out of position on our press, and like I told them, that’s our weapon. We got that straightened out. We switched from a man-to-man to a 2-3 (zone packing the middle). The game plan is they can’t shoot outside. I felt confident that these kids would not give up.”
And they didn’t. Even after everyone else had given up on them.
“We got a little frustrated,” said May, who had a team-high 17 points. “We were bickering back and forth, and I got the team together at halftime and was like, ‘We have to calm down and play our game. Execute the game plan the coaches have for us.’ And that’s what we did in the second half.”
Handley 53, Carbon Hill 43
History almost repeated itself in the second Class 4A Central Regional game as Handley watched a double-digit lead whittled to a basket with three minutes left before the Tigers put the game away.
Handley (25-7) will face Dora in the 4A regional final on Friday at 5:20 p.m., after Dallas County saw a three-quarter, double-digit lead evaporate to Dora in the final minutes.
“We weren’t executing our offense,” Handley coach Clifton Drummonds said. “In the first half, when we got the lead, we were executing our offense and doing the things we needed to do. In the second half, we started playing sporadic basketball and we didn’t make free throws and let them back in the ballgame.”
Travius Dunson made his free throws down the stretch, hitting 4 of 6 in the final three minutes to finish with 28 points. Semaj Nunn added 12. Brandon Smith led Carbon Hill (22-10) with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
“We knew we had to dictate the tempo because they’ve got a good basketball team,” Hammonds said. “They’ve been to the final four the last two years and we’ve gotten knocked out the last two years down here. We wanted to establish the tempo and we did that at the start of the ballgame.”