HENDERSONVILLE Connor McCutcheon made a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer in the third quarter, but little did he know it would help ignite a frantic rally.
The Merrol Hyde Magnet sophomore buried five 3-pointers in the second half, helping the Hawks overcome a 17-point deficit in a 64-59 victory over visiting Aaron Academy on Monday evening.
McCutcheon scored 20 points, 17 of those over the final 8:01. His third-quarter buzzer-beater sent Merrol Hyde Magnet (1-2) into the fourth period trailing by a 48-34 margin.
“I just needed to see one go in,” McCutcheon said. “The light just came on.
“Our (full-court) press did everything for us.”
The Hawks opened the final frame on a 10-2 run, trimming the Royals’ advantage to six points (50-44) with 5:33 remaining.
Head coach Kory Craighead’s plan was working as the Hawks applied full-court pressure for almost half of the final period.
“I just told the guys that we were going to start selling out more in the fourth quarter and pressing,” Craighead said. “Sometimes, seeing the ball go in once and having a couple of good, successful defensive possessions does a lot for your offense.”
McCutcheon hit two more 3-pointers near the midpoint of the fourth quarter, helping the Hawks outscore Aaron Academy 30-11 over the final eight minutes.
“Coach (Craighead), at the end of the third, said, ‘look, let’s make (the deficit) seven by the middle of the fourth and let’s see what we can do from there,’” McCutcheon said. “I think Jenord (Taylor) made a shot. Then, I missed. They got the ball back around to me, and I hit a shot. Once I saw it go through, that’s when it started clicking.”
The Hawks reeled off a 9-0 run to take a 56-54 lead with 2:09 to play.
Aaron Academy (3-2) tied the game seconds later on two free throws from senior Caleb Hodnett, who did all he could to keep the Royals in front.
“He played hard,” Royals head coach Caleb Maxwell said of Hodnett. “We talked about defensive execution, with him and the team as a whole. You ask him to play hard, and he does a real good job of that.”
Connor Dunn put the Hawks ahead for good by providing the next four points.
“We’ve struggled all year long in high-pressure situations,” Maxwell said. “Instead of making a 5-0 run end there, we let it turn into a 15-0 run.”
Hodnett scored a game-high 33 points and hit three of the Royals’ seven 3-pointers. However, the Hawks limited him to four points in the fourth quarter.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” McCutcheon said of Hodnett. “He can hit jump shots. He can hit threes. He was unstoppable. We just had to adjust to him, cheat more on him and always know where he was on the court. We had our bench yelling out where he was on the court all the time.”
It was poor shooting that put Merrol Hyde Magnet in a hole in the first place. The Hawks shot 13 for 47 from the field over the first three quarters. In the fourth, Merrol Hyde Magnet made 10 of 16 field-goal attempts.
“We got a lot of looks that we wanted in the third quarter,” Craighead said. “We just could not hit anything. A lot of those were uncontested shots. We just weren’t hitting them.”
Senior Jenord Taylor scored 19 points for the Hawks, none more important than the two free throws he hit with 9.7 seconds to play. Classmate Connor Dunn scored 13 points.
Fellow senior Zach Shonting – who was originally thought to be unable to play this season due to a cyst on his brain – has been in the lineup since opening night and scored four points on Monday. A second opinion early in November gave Shonting the clearance he needed to be on the floor.
“He got checked out again, and they told his family, him and all of us that he was 100-percent cleared to play,” Craighead said. “He got a second opinion and was simply told to keep a close tab on things.”
Sophomore Gideon Boyd scored 12 points for the Royals, while classmate Hayden Sadler scored 10.
The Hawks are slated to host Community on Tuesday evening, while the Royals play at Lighthouse Christian on Tuesday and visit Franklin Road Academy on Friday.
Reach Chris Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 615-575-7118. Follow him on Twitter @CB_SumnerSports.
AARON ACADEMY (59) – Caleb Hodnett 33, Gideon Boyd 12, Hayden Sadler 10, Tim Lopez 2, Thomas Wooley 2.
MERROL HYDE MAGNET (64) – Connor McCutcheon 20, Jenord Taylor 19, Connor Dunn 13, Graceson Lawrence 4, Zach Shonting 4, Kyle Richardson 2, Ollie Talmadge 2.
Half: 28-23, Aaron Academy. Three-point goals: Aaron Academy 7 (Hodnett 3, Boyd 2, Sadler 2), Merrol Hyde Magnet 8 (McCutcheon 6, Taylor 2). Records: Aaron Academy 3-2, Merrol Hyde Magnet 1-2.