All Carver boys basketball coach Warren Beaulah could do was just smile and shake his head.
Saturday night at Carver High, Beaulah's team had a chance to upset No. 3 Johnson-Savannah in the second round of the Class AAA state tournament and for three-plus quarters, the Tigers did what they needed to do.
However, the Atom Smashers rallied in the fourth quarter and held off Carver, 70-65, leaving Beaulah to wonder what might've been had his team been able to hold it together for just a few more minutes.
"After the game, I told my kids that when you're in a nip-and-tuck game like this one was, it's the little things that make all the difference," said Beaulah, who had three players foul out and another leave with an ankle injury late in the fourth quarter. "It's things like making your free throws, boxing out on rebounds and making the shots when you have good looks that make all the difference. We just didn't do quite enough of all those things. It just wasn't our night."
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With the win, Johnson -- the No. 2 seed from Region 1-AAA -- will now host Tattnall County in the Elite 8 on Wednesday night.
Carver (16-11) led for a good portion of the game, taking a 37-31 lead into halftime after being up by as much as 12 points midway through the second quarter. Johnson (22-6) got into gear in the third quarter and led 49-44 with 2:17 to go in the period, but the Tigers closed the quarter with a 13-5 burst to hold a 57-54 lead headed into the fourth quarter.
In the final period, the Atom Smashers scored the first eight points of the quarter to go up 62-57 with 5:46 remaining, but Carver scored six straight to take a 63-62 lead on a putback by Jawon Pass with 3:10 to go. That was Carver's final lead of the game, though the Tigers did have a chance to extend it when Robert Colon stepped to the free-throw line for two free throws with 2:40 left.
However, Colon missed both free throws -- the Tigers were 0-for-6 from the line in the fourth quarter and just 15-for-31 (48.4 percent) for the game -- and Tim Quarterman scored on Johnson's next possession to put the Atom Smashers back on top 64-63 with 1:56 remaining. Following a missed shot by Carver, Jamarey Lovett sank two more free throws to make it 66-63 and Carver got no closer than two the rest of the way.
"When (Khane Pass) left with that ankle injury, we had two free throws and missed them both," said Beaulah. "If we'd made those free throws, we'd have been up three and still in the flow of the game. But we missed them and I think that's where we got tight. After those misses, we started falling apart."
The Tigers did get to within 67-65 on a steal and layup by Torrence McGee with 41 seconds still to go and following a turnover by the Atom Smashers, Carver had the ball down 68-65 with 18.4 seconds remaining, but the Tigers turned the ball over and Johnson was able to make two more free throws and escape with a victory.
"I told my guys that I think Johnson left here with a lot more respect for our team than they had when they got here," said Beaulah. We had a great run the second half of this season. Johnson just had a lot of players who can make plays and were the better team tonight."
Marqui Hawkins led Carver with 19 points and Jawon Pass added 12 for the Tigers in the loss. Quarterman was the game's high scorer, pouring in 28 -- including 19 in the second half -- to pace the Atom Smashers. Ad'Rian Bonds also had 18 for Johnson, which won despite making only 22-of-41 (53.7 percent) free throws for the game.
Saturday at Carver High
Johnson 12 19 23 16--70
Carver 15 22 20 8--65
Tim Quarterman 28, Mortimer 9, Lovett 3, Myers 2, Ad'Rian Bonds 18, Holmes 5, Muhammad 3, Maxwell 2. Totals 23 22-41 70.
Colon 3, K. Pass 4, McGee 9, Marqui Hawkins 19, Woods 9, J. Pass 12, Johnson 6, Brown 1, Reese 2. Totals 24 15-31 65.
Records: Johnson-Savannah 22-6, Carver 16-11; Next: Johnson-Savannah vs. Tattnall County (Class AAA State Tournament Quarterfinals), Wednesday TBA