With 6:50 left Wednesday night, Bilal Nichols’ monster dunk gave Hodgson a 13-point lead and appeared to seal the game.
Then something happened in the corner on the other end of the court.
A minor altercation broke out, with order being restored in less than five seconds. The skirmish launched a major turn of events that saw Mount Pleasant take the lead before Hodgson rallied for a 49-45 home victory in the opening round of the DIAA Boys Basketball State Tournament.
But the fallout from the incident will continue to impact the Silver Eagles. Freshman L.J. Stansbury and junior Ray Jones were ejected. DIAA rules require any player who is ejected to sit out the following game, so the two guards won’t be able to play in Hodgson’s second-round game at Concord on Friday night.
“My guys just fought through some unbelievable adversity tonight,” Silver Eagles coach Ed Sobocinski said. “The most adversity I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here.”
Hodgson led 23-20 at the half, as Jones led the way with 10 early points. Then the Silver Eagles started finding Nichols in the third quarter. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound center had four buckets in six minutes as Hodgson extended its lead to 33-25.
“They did a real good job of containing me in the first half,” Nichols said. “But we went in during halftime and came up with a few adjustments, and found a few cracks that we noticed in their defense that we were able to capitalize on.”
Nichols hit two free throws, then put a serious stress test on the rim with a one-handed jam to make it 42-29 with 6:50 to play. Then Stansbury was called for a foul while Mount Pleasant’s Dashaun Holland was shooting. Stansbury also received a technical foul and was ejected after pushing a Green Knights player, but order was quickly restored.
Jones had been on the Hodgson bench on the other end of the court, and Sobocinski sent him to the scorer’s table to replace Stansbury. Jones thought he had checked in properly and casually jogged down the court, but officials gave him a technical foul and ejection for leaving the bench during an altercation.
After a long discussion, Holland was awarded six free throws. He made five of them, and followed with a three-point play off a tip-in. Then Kyle Brown drove the baseline for a layup to pull Mount Pleasant within 42-39 with 4:03 to go.
With two of their top ballhandlers ejected, the Silver Eagles struggled and turned the ball over several times. Back-to-back jumpers by Holland gave Mount Pleasant a 45-44 lead at the 2:55 mark.
“We knew they would go on a run at some point, and that was their big run,” Hodgson’s Matt Peel said. “We just had to all stick together through the adversity we had.”
Those were the last points the Green Knights would score, as they missed six consecutive free throws down the stretch. Peel’s layup put Hodgson back in the lead with 2:06 left. Then Peel tipped in Nichols’ miss for a 48-45 lead with 32 seconds to go. Nichols hit a free throw with 17 seconds left for the final point.
“We just didn’t finish. We didn’t hit foul shots,” Mount Pleasant coach Lisa Sullivan said. “If you’re a kid and you go to the playground, don’t play one-on-one. Go to the foul line, be a good foul shooter. Then you get to move on in the state tournament.
“That’s what it boils down to. We just didn’t make foul shots.”
Nichols led 13th-seeded Hodgson (14-7) with 16 points. Jones scored 10, and Peel and Bryan Daniels had seven each.
“That was the wildest fourth quarter I’ve ever played in in my life,” Nichols said. “It’s crazy how emotions can go from up to down, back to up again so quickly. Everything took a turn so quickly, but we battled through it to the final buzzer.”
Holland led 20th-seeded Mount Pleasant (13-8) with 16 points and nine rebounds.