STEUBENVILLE - Steubenville basketball fans won't soon forget Tuesday's OVAC Class 4A semifinal battle with East Liverpool, played before a full house at The Crimson Center.
Adam Sterling's buzzer-beating layup lifted second-seeded Big Red to a 76-74 victory against the Potters. The fantastic finish came seconds after freshman Charles Reeves tied it at 74-74 when he took an inbounds pass from Lucas Herrington and scored from the paint.
East Liverpool, which entered the Wheeling Hospital-sponsored tournament as the No. 3 seed, had plenty of time following Reeves' score to secure a victory. With a little more than two seconds left, however, the Potters committed a costly turnover.
Sterling grabbed the loose ball, drove to the hole and got his shot into the air before time expired. When the ball fell through the net, a wild celebration ensued and Big Red had its 17th victory in 20 outings.
"They turned it over and it happened to be Sterling who picked up the ball near half court,'' Big Red coach Mike Haney said. "He took two big dribbles and laid it in. It was smart that he laid it up. If he had tried to dunk it, the ball would have been in his hands a little longer. He was able to get it out of hand in time."
East Liverpool coach Nate Conley was spot on when he called the third meeting of the season (Big Red won the first by 24 and the second by a point) between the two teams a great basketball game.
"Unfortunately, we didn't come out on the winning end," Conley said. "The OVAC is a glorified regular-season game. This loss means nothing - it's not like we're not playing (today). It's a regular-season game that we didn't win, but we'll get better from this loss."
Early on, it appeared the Potters were going to run Big Red right out of the gym. They went 14-for-17 from the floor in the opening quarter and grabbed a 34-24 lead. A pair of 3s from Kade Reynolds along with a Hayden Cunningham 3-pointer powered an 11-0 East Liverpool run.
Big Red regrouped in the second, holding the Potters to three field goals. After a Cunningham hoop made it 38-24 East Liverpool, the hosts scored 15 of the next 16 points to knot the score at 39-39. The visitors were up 43-41 at the intermission.
"We gave up 34 points in the first quarter and they shot lights out," Haney said. "We gave up some easy buckets in transition and allowed too many open shots. Our defense got better in the second and we came up with some key turnovers. We didn't shoot well but we kept fighting and got some offensive rebounds."
The Potters started the third with a 6-0 run and were up 49-41. Big Red, however, hung tough and grabbed a 56-55 advantage late following a Brandon Herring-Hill 3 and a Sterling bucket, coming off a Herring-Hill assist. Austin Emmerling's hoop put East Liverpool up 57-56 heading into the fourth.
Cunningham buried two in a row from behind the arc and East Liverpool led 63-56 early in the fourth. The Potters were able to hold that seven-point edge until Dionee Wallace Jones knocked down a 3 with 3:40 left putting the score at 67-63.
Reynolds answered for East Liverpool before Sterling swished a 3 and Herring-Hill laid one in with his left hand, making it 69-68. Cunningham then got three the old-fashion way and Conley's club led by four.
Reeves and Cunningham exchanged points before Herring-Hill hit a jumper with 46 ticks left. The buckets by Reeves and Sterling finished the scoring.
Herring-Hill led Big Red in scoring with 21 and also doled out four assists. Sterling added 17 to go along with 22 rebounds and four blocks. Reeves also recorded a double-double (14 points and 14 rebounds).
Cunningham took game scoring honors with 22, 13 in the fourth. Reynolds netted 17, Emmerling 14 and Owen Crawford 12.
The win sends Big Red to the Class 4A title game for the second season in a row. Haney's crew will play unbeaten Union Local at 12:30 on Saturday on the campus of Ohio University Eastern.