Klifton Willis Beats the Buzzer, Sends Tatum Past No. 1 Kountze in OT + Into State Tournament
NACOGDOCHES -- Klifton Willis doesn't always start. Sometimes he doesn't even score. But he scored in a big way Saturday afternoon.
Willis' buzzer-beating jumper in overtime sent second-ranked Tatum past No. 1 Kountze 84-82 in their Class 2A Region III championship game at SFA's William R. Johnson Coliseum, advancing the Eagles to next week's state basketball tournament in Austin.
Tatum (34-4) will meet an opponent to be determined at either 8:30 or 10 a.m. Friday from the University of Texas' Frank Erwin Center in a 2A semifinal. It was the second consecutive year for Tatum to eliminate Kountze (32-6) from the playoffs, after scoring an upset win in the area round of last year's postseason.
With Saturday's game tied at 82-82 with 23.4 seconds remaining, Kountze went for the win, but was unsuccessful, leaving Tatum 9.1 seconds with which to operate. Willis took the inbounds pass and went the distance, pulling up from about 15 feet for the win.
"I knew I was taking the shot," Willis said. "I was glad we were able to stop them after the turnover. Luckily, they messed up. It was great to have another chance. After I hit it, I fell to the floor and looked up at the clock. That's all I remember."
A mob scene ensued with Tatum players and coaches dog-piling on its end of the floor.
"The amount of work that we put in with these kids … our kids play multiple sports, but they sold out and did what we asked them to do over the summer," said Tatum coach Brett Carr. "They've forked out some cash, and these are kids that don't have cash. They paid a price and we told them it would pay off, and this an unbelievable payoff."
The Tatum victory overshadowed a stellar performance by Kountze sophomore point guard Grayland Arnold, who finished with 43 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. He and senior post Xavier Barnes, who finished with 22 points -- 20 in the second half -- and six rebounds, combined to score the Lions' final 43 points.
"That sucker's a stud, I mean what do you do?," Carr said of Arnold. "He's somebody that we're going to watch in the future I'm sure."
Willis scored all 10 of his points in the second half, and added 12 rebounds, five steals and four assists. He had two steals that led to easy baskets during Tatum's 14-0 run in the third quarter that gave the Eagles a 47-37 lead.
"We went to the press and hurt them a little bit with that; we had a little bit more athletic lineup," Carr said. "He's the leader of that group. He doesn't always start for us, but I think he's the toughest kid we've got."
Tatum junior Martin Williams also had a monster second half, leading the Eagles with 19 points -- all coming in the final two quarters and overtime.
"We'd been expecting that with what they run; that fits right into who Martin is," Carr said. "I think he got in a zone and he wanted it, and honestly our whole team wanted it. Everything didn't go our way, but I thought they did a heck of a job hanging in there the whole game."
Chaston Brooks added 17 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals in the win, Robbie Rockwell finished with 12 points and three boards and Donovan Centers chipped in with 10 points, three rebounds and two steals. Nine different Tatum players found the scoring column, while 11 rotated in and out throughout the game.
The fourth quarter featured six lead changes. A Brooks layup and two free throws by Williams gave Tatum a 73-70 lead with 51.9 seconds remaining in regulation, but Arnold had the answer by burying a 3-pointer on Kountze's next possession, helping send the game into overtime.
Another Arnold 3-pointer, followed by two free throws from Barnes gave Kountze a 78-75 lead with 2:49 to play in overtime. But Williams tied it with a 3 of his own and gave Tatum an 80-78 lead with two free throws at the 2:17 mark.
Both teams then traded baskets before Arnold sank two foul shots to tie the game at 82-82 with 49.7 seconds remaining, which ultimately set the stage for Willis' heroics.
"He's really played a role for us all year," Carr said of Willis. "I think he's the most unselfish kid on our team. It's funny that a guy who sits there and does everything that you ask him -- and maybe he's not getting some of the glory that he wished he had -- for him to hit the last shot, pretty unbelievable. But that's the way it should be."
No. 2 Tatum 84, No. 1 Kountze 82 (OT)
Boys Class 2A Region III Championship
At SFA's Johnson Coliseum, Nacogdoches
Tatum 13 15 28 17 11 -- 84
Kountze 12 19 20 22 9 -- 82
TATUM (34-4) -- Martin Williams, 19; Chaston Brooks, 17; Robbie Rockwell, 12; Donovan Centers, 10; Klifton Willis, 10; Jahee Johnson, 8; Kyshaun Smith, 5; Devante Alexander, 2; Jalen Shans, 1.
KOUNTZE (32-6) -- Grayland Arnold, 43; Xavier Barnes, 22; Justin Harper, 7; Xavier Scott, 4; JJ Edwards, 2; Dante McMahon, 2; TJ Stanford, 2.
THREE-POINT GOALS -- Tatum: Centers (2), Rockwell (2), Williams (2), Smith. Kountze: Arnold (2).