For a coach who’d just won a basketball game in a major tournament, Doss’ Tony Williams was in a decidedly non-celebratory mood Wednesday night.
Williams said he wants more focus from his team moving forward in the Republic Bank Louisville Invitational Tournament after the Dragons made only 5 of 17 second-half free throws and blew nearly all of a 19-point, second-half lead before escaping Waggener 63-62 in a second-round game at Valley.
“I’m not real happy,” Williams said. “You would think with everything we’ve been through this season — the King of the Bluegrass, a holiday tournament in Bowling Green, playing away in some hostile environments — we would know how to close out games. And we just do the exact opposite.”
Third-seeded Doss surged ahead 50-31 in the third quarter and still led by 10 midway through the fourth before shaky foul shooting nearly cost them.
After Doss guard Dujuanta Weaver missed two free throws with 5.1 seconds left, Waggener’s Jaquan Hendricks missed a 3-point try at the buzzer, ending the 14th-seeded Wildcats’ chances to come all the way back.
Doss (13-2) advanced to face DeSales in Friday’s 4 p.m. quarterfinal despite making just 8 of 21 at the foul line and losing the rebounding battle 45-30.
“I attribute (the foul shooting) to the way we practice,” Williams said, vowing to change the lineup before the next game if the Dragons don’t practice well on Thursday. “When the focus is there, it shows when the lights come on. When the focus isn’t there in practice, it shows when the lights come on. So you can imagine that our last practice didn’t have a lot of focus in it.”
Power forward Tyler Jefferson, a Western Kentucky football commitment, led Doss with 19 points and nine rebounds and was a force around the rim. Weaver added 16 points and seven assists, and Terrell Gray scored 12.
Hendricks had 21 points to lead Waggener (10-7), which played without injured starters Nick Kratholm and Jacquess Hobbs and had Kevin Kirby limited with an injury. Waggener’s top player, Devon Cooper, struggled his way to 12 points on 4-of-26 shooting, but he made two threes in the final minute to give Doss a scare.
“They competed the second half,” Waggener coach Bryan O’Neill said. “What I was frustrated with is we didn’t compete enough in the first half. But I was proud of them for giving that great effort in the second half.”
Ramon Collins’ layup and foul shot midway through the second quarter began a 16-1 Doss run to finish the half and put the Dragons up 39-25 at intermission. The Dragons shot 53 percent in the first half with only two turnovers.
They came out for the third quarter well, too, going ahead 50-31 at the 3:53 mark.
That’s when Waggener came alive, making back-to-back threes to start a 13-0 run to end the third. Hendricks’ three in the closing seconds cut Doss’ lead to 50-44.
Doss eventually got back ahead 58-48 and looked safe to advance. But the Dragons made just 3 of 14 free throws over the final couple minutes, and Waggener was able to extend the game by fouling and kept chipping away.
“You just want to give yourself a chance and hope that they miss a couple,” O’Neill said. “That’s what we did.”
Cooper’s 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds left closed the gap to 63-62, but Hendricks missed Waggener’s final shot.
Jefferson said the close finish is “definitely a wake-up call” as Doss moves into even tougher rounds of the tournament.
“We thought we had the game in the bag, and when it came down to clutch time, we let off our focus, and it caused us to miss free throws we usually don’t miss,” he said. “… We’ve just got to stick together, continue to work hard like we do every day and we’ll be all right.”
Steve Jones can be reached at (502) 582-7176 and followed on Twitter at @SteveJones_CJ.
Waggener (10-7) – Kirby 4, Jackson 3, Cole 3, Hill 17, Hendricks 21, Crawford 2, Cooper 12.
Doss (13-2) – Weaver 16, McCarley 4, Anderson 6, Gray 12, McCloud 3, Collins 3, Jefferson 19.
3-point goals – Hendricks 2, Jackson; Anderson 2, Weaver, McCarley, Gray.