Decatur trailed for the first 31 minutes, but a Cordele Jackson layup as time expired gave the Bulldogs a come-from-behind 56-54 win over Mt. Vernon Presbyterian.
The Bulldogs (9-4) had taken their first lead of the game on back-to-back steals and easy buckets on the Mt. Vernon side of the court with 43.4 seconds left to make it 54-52.
Arminas Kelmelis, who finished with a game-high 26 points, tied the game back up with two free throws on the other end, and Decatur took the ball back with 8.7 seconds left.
The Bulldogs quickly got into their halfcourt offense, and Jackson did the rest.
“My guard, Murad Dillard, he penetrated down,” Jackson said. “He passed it to Kendall (Ford), and all he did was go baseline. All I saw was the lane was wide open. So I was thinking I should just cut to the middle. And my players saw me. It was an easy bucket.”
Decatur trailed by as many as 15 in the third quarter and 12 early in the fourth, as the Mustangs (9-3) used a combination of outside shooting (four 3-pointers in the first half to open up a large lead) and tough inside play from Kelmelis and Drew Anderson to continually challenge the Bulldogs on the defensive end.
With 6:45 left, the Mustangs led 45-33 and appeared to be in control when Decatur went into an aggressive halfcourt press defense, trapping where possible and trying not the foul.
That put pressure on small guard Jarod Harper, who struggled to deal with the defenders hounding him in the halfcourt. The pressure helped lead to 10 second-half turnovers for Mt. Vernon, and it seemed to spark the Bulldogs on both ends of the floor.
“The press helped us out with our energy,” Decatur coach Charlie Copp said. “When you press like that, it kind of opens the game up. With that opening of the game, thrive off the change and drive to the rack, and get inside on the defense.”
They did just that, hitting shots with a foul on three consecutive possessions during an 11-1 run that cut the 45-33 deficit to 46-44 with 2:44 left.
The teams then traded scoring possessions until the steals and then Jackson’s final shot gave the Bulldogs the win.
Jackson finished with 10 points, none more important than the last two. He’s a senior, but it was a feeling he hadn’t had before.
“This was my very first winner,” Jackson said. “It feels awesome. I can’t describe it. I’m just so happy that we won.”