By Don Brown
After leading by seven points with under five minutes to play, the Grayson County Cougars saw their basketball season come to a heart-rending close as the Muhlenberg County Mustangs rallied to win 47-45 in the opening round of the 3rd Region Tournament last Wednesday evening at the Sportscenter, in Owensboro.
Ethan Saltsman’s lay-up with 4:58 remaining to be played put the Cougars on top 41-34 and it looked as though they were on their way to the semi-final round. But the Cougars would score just four more points and the Mustangs would rally for the win.
Jake Griffin tied the game at 45-45 with a rebound basket with 1:46 remaining. Grayson County’s Trey Tinsley than missed a three-pointer, and the Mustangs called a timeout with 1:27 left to play.
The Mustangs (21-9) then milked the clock, looking to take one final shot. They ran the clock down to :15.7, before calling another timeout to set up the final play.
Back on the floor, as the clock wound down to the final seconds, Griffin found the lane open and took the ball to the hoop. Senior Brady Clemons tried to block the shot, but was whistled for a foul, sending Griffin to the line for two shots with just 1.9 seconds showing on the clock.
Grayson County called a time to try to ice Griffin, but the senior hit both shots to put his team on top.
The Cougars called another timeout to set up their last opportunity, and it turned out to be a good one. Ollie Roberts got the ball into a streaking Clemons, who passed ahead to Trey Tinsley, who was all alone about 25 feet from the basket on the left wing. Getting the ball off just before the buzzer, Tinsley’s shot hung in the air, then just grazed the inside rim, ricohted off the opposite rim and caromed out. Half an inch more, and the shot would have been pure.
The Cougars played from behind for much of the game. The Mustangs scored the first four points of the game, but the Cougars tied it at the 5:18 mark with four straight from Saltsman. Muhlenberg then put together an 11-4 run to take their largest lead of the night, seven points at 15-8. Grayson County trailed by four, 15-11 heading into the second period.
A 15-footer from Saltsman brought the Cougars to within two points, 17-15 at the 5:56 mark of the second quarter, but the Mustangs outscored them 8-3 to lead by seven once more, 25-18 with 1:21 left in the first half. A three from Tinsley and 1 of 2 at the line by Saltsman cut the Cougar deficit to just three points, 25-22 at the half.
A Clemons three-pointer tied the score 29-29 at the 5:07 mark before Ollie Roberts scored off a high-low assist from Saltsman to give the Cougars their first lead of the night, 31-29 with 4:06 left in the period. Roberts then had an old-fashioned three-point play with 3:31 left to put the Cougars up by five, 34-29.
With the chance to extend their lead, the Cougars turned the ball over on two straight possessions before Saltsman scored again with 1:05 left to give the Cougars a seven-point lead, 36-29.
Following a Mustang miss, the Cougars tried to play for the final shot of the period, but Mustang pressure forced another Cougar turnover and Griffin score with eight seconds left to cut the lead to five, 36-31 as the fourth quarter began.
The Mustangs got within three points at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Cougars pushed the lead back up to seven on Saltsman’s lay-up with 4:58 left to play, setting up the final sequence of events.
As it has been all season, free-throw shooting was a problem for the Cougars. The 2nd Region officiating crew called very few fouls in the game, so the few times the teams went to the line were most important. Grayson County was just 6 of 11 at the line, for 54 percent. The Mustangs also shot 54 percent, 7 of 13, but they made 5 of 6 in the game’s final 4:32 to seal their win.
Griffin led the Mustangs with 12 points, while LeMon Gregory had 10.
Saltsman led all scorers in the game with 17 points and he added eight rebounds and a pair of assists. Roberts had 10 points and made it a double-double night with 10 rebounds. He also led the team with six assists.
Clemons had nine points, all on three-pointers and he added two rebounds and two assists. Trey Tinsley finished with seven points, while Ryne Tinsley had two to complete the scoring.
Grayson County finished its season with a record of 25-6.