KNOXVILLE—It was the closest game of the year for the Lady Wildcats, and it was decided on a free throw after a controversial foul was called with 0.2 seconds left.
The half court foul, beyond the three-point line, sent Fulton junior LayLay Manning to the line to shoot three times. Giving hope to Oak Ridge fans, who wanted overtime, she missed the first two. But after timeouts were called, Manning dropped in the third free throw, giving the Lady Falcons a 48-47 win over Oak Ridge in a non-district game on Saturday, the last of the regular season.
It was a battle throughout, with the two teams regularly trading leads. Most of the time, neither team led by more than four points. One reporter compared it to a state championship game.
Fulton (22-4, 7-2 District 3-AA) was led by Keke McKinney, a 6-foot-1 senior forward who announced in October that she is going to Kentucky. She scored 22 points in the hot, loud, packed Jody Wright Arena on Saturday.
Oak Ridge (24-3, 16-0 District 3-AAA) was led by Jada Guinn, a 5-foot-8 sophomore guard. She scored a game-high 27 points, with 18 in the second half alone.
No other player was in double digits. Manning had nine points for Fulton, and junior Janae Fuqua added six. Oak Ridge juniors Mykia Dowdell, who got into foul trouble with four by the third quarter, and Desiree Bates, who came off the bench to spark the Lady Wildcats, each scored six.
“I’m extremely pleased with the way we played,” Oak Ridge Coach Paige Green said. “They battled.”
The girls should hold their heads high, Green said.
“We haven’t been in this situation yet this season,” she said.
Some fans might want to blame the loss at least in part on that late foul call—several didn’t think the foul, if there was one, should be called that late in a tie game—but the game should never come down to being someone else’s fault, Green said. You have to look at everything that happened in the rest of the 32-minute game, such as the missed boxouts on rebounds and missed layups on scoring opportunities, Green said.
Fulton’s height and zone play was a challenge, Green said. Oak Ridge played a zone that it only played one other time this season, she said.
“I’m really proud of my girls,” Green said.
The Lady Wildcats took an early 4-0 lead and led 10-5 at the end of the first quarter. They held a slim one-point 23-22 lead at halftime.
Fulton led 37-35 at the end of three quarters. After giving up the lead in the fourth quarter, the Lady Falcons tied the game at 47 on a three-point shot—their only one in the fourth quarter—with about 40 seconds to play. There were questions about whether that tying shot was actually from behind the three-point line.
Each team turned over the ball once in the final 30 seconds before Manning launched the half court shot that led to the foul call and winning free throw.
The loss ended an 11-game winning streak for Oak Ridge. The Lady Wildcats finished the regular season undefeated in District 3-AAA with 16 wins and no losses.
The annual Oak Ridge-Fulton basketball games between the boys’ and girls’ teams have been among the highlights of the regular season for the last few years. The Lady Wildcats lost 30-26 at home last year but fell by larger margins the previous two years: 71-34 in 2015 and 60-32 in 2014.
Fulton has made it to the Class AA sectional each of the last two years, and the Lady Falcons played in the Class AA state championship game three years ago, finishing as state runner-up in 2014.
Oak Ridge finished as state runner-up in Class AAA last year, losing to Riverdale 68-36 in the state championship game on March 12.
The Lady Wildcats, the regular season district champion and the top seed in the district, won’t play again until a semifinal game in the District 3-AAA tournament at Clinton at 6 p.m. Saturday, February 18. Campbell County is the number two seed, and Powell is number three.
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