Monday night saw the situation every kid pretends they’re in while shooting hoops in the driveway: six seconds left. Down by one. A trip to the boys basketball state tournament on the line.
The Northeast Eagles had a 49-48 advantage after Marcus Averhart muscled in a contested layup to put his team ahead, just seconds away from advancing to Murfreesboro. Coming out of the timeout, NEHS coach Sam Young prepared his team for a drive to the hoop from the Hillsboro Burros.
Instead, JP Pegues took the ball at the top of the key, stepped back and fired with Averhart’s hand in his face.
With a quiet gym and a state tournament trip connected to the trajectory of that ball, the shot connected as time expired and Pegues made the childhood dreams a reality while sinking the Eagles’ title aspirations.
“(We) always battle but tonight especially, we had a lot of loose balls we came up with, rebounds that we came up with,” Young said.
“That one play doesn’t outline what (our) team did all year. Marcus did a good job on him. (Pegues) made a contested shot. I wouldn’t change anything, he just made a good play.”
That final shot undid a spirited fourth-quarter rally by the Eagles. They led after the first quarter but were outscored 33-25 between the second and third quarters. They exploded for a 10-2 run to start the final eight minutes before trading buckets back-and-forth the final few minutes.
Senior guard Ty Jackson carried the offensive load for Northeast, scoring 19 points and 13 in the second half. Despite only spending two years with the program, he said he is grateful for the time he had with the Eagles.
“They showed me what it means to be a point guard and how to take myself to the next level and show me how to be a team player, not a selfish player,” Jackson said. “I’m proud that I had this program to teach me what it is to be a true point guard.
“I will always remember the culture, the players I had on the team who helped me even though we lost. Through all the bad things that happened, they would pick me up and tell me to go harder every time.”
The Eagles finished as the top regular season team in District 10-AAA, making good on their No. 1 seed to convincingly capture the district tournament title. They went on to advance all the way to the Region 5-AAA finals where they fell to Mt. Juliet, sending them to Hillsboro.
But for Young, the wins and losses won’t be what he remembers most.
“Just the character of the kids. How hard they worked for you and how much they lay on the line like we do as coaches.”
Senior forward Tomario Vereen graduates along with Jackson. Northeast finished 25-6 overall.
“If you’re going to end (your high school career) that way, go out on a bang and they did,” Young said of his seniors. “Ty had a couple people here watching him play tonight, he played phenomenal. Tomario’s going to be playing football in college. They’re both tremendous kids, and they both really played their guts out tonight.”
Hillsboro (51): JP Pegues 18, Jalen Macon 10, Desmond Henderson 8, Ryan Wilcox 6, Tehlor Buford 5, Darrow Parrish 3.
Northeast (49): Ty Jackson 19, Jalen Hooks 11, Marcus Averhart 6, Isaiah Farrior 6, Josh Alexander 3, Jalen Bussey 2, Tomario Vereen 2.