A fine line separated the winner from the loser Tuesday afternoon at Woody Williams Armory — the free-throw line that is.
Trailing Bridgeport by a single point with just 14 seconds remaining, Fairmont Senior’s Tavon Horton was fouled, sending him to the stripe for a one-and-one. The junior guard was already the team’s second-leading scorer on the day — with 13 points he was just behind Isaac Childers’ 16— but was struggling mightily with his foul shots, sinking just one of five.
Darhius Nunn, who finished with nine points, approached his teammate from outside the 3-point arc and jokingly gave him a soft punch on the shoulder. Looking him in the eye he said, “No pressure. You can knock these down easy like in practice.”
Looking on from the bench, coach Dave Retton told himself the same thing.
“We joke on our team; we talk about clearing or deleting after a bad play or something,” he said. “As a coach, that’s what I did. I cleared my mind and hoped that he went up there and certainly knocked one down.”
Horton let the first shot go and watched it squeeze through the iron. He had tied the game. Now he had a shot to win it.
Butterflies? Beating heart? Sweaty palms?
“Oh my gosh, yes!” Horton said afterward.
With the forwards leaning into the lane in anticipation of a rebound, Horton’s shot sailed through the hoop to give the Polar Bears a 54-53 lead.
The Indians scrambled in the final seconds and got off two solid looks, but neither fell. As the final horn sounded, the Polar Bears took off down the court in celebration, hugging Horton with one hand, index fingers raised on the other.
While East Fairmont and North Marion remain Fairmont Senior’s most storied rivals, the win against Bridgeport ranks right up there, the players said, especially considering that the Indians ended the Polar Bears’ football season on the way to the Class AA state championship.
“It's one of the best wins,” Nunn said.
The victory was Fairmont Senior’s second-consecutive one-possession win. The Polar Bears (3-3 overall, 3-1 Big 10) edged Brooke by just three points Saturday. Fairmont Senior is now back to .500 after starting the season 1-3.
Retton said he has continued to see improvement in his young team.
“You have to give credit to what the team did, and our team did some really good things out there. But tomorrow we’ve got to get better,” he said. “That’s the process.
“If you get one percent better in each game, we’ve got 15 or 20 games left. Those percentages add up, and that’s a really good basketball team come late February and early March.”
The next chance to add to those percentages will come Friday when the Polar Bears travel to Grafton.
Email Mike DeFabo at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.