CORSICANA — The plan was executed. The outcome seemed assured. Only the ball didn’t cooperate.
Unable to get much separation from South Grand Prairie’s half-court press, Ellison captain Ojai Black took the inbounds with 5.6 seconds left and drove to his left before pushing an off-balance pass to teammate Malik Hawkins in the corner.
With the Eagles trailing the fourth-ranked Warriors 45-44, Hawkins released the ball, arching it ever so perfectly toward the rim as the once-raucous Corsicana High gym fell silent.
“I turned around and I thought he was going to make it — it looked good, it’s a shot he usually hits, he was hitting them all game — it’s Malik,” Black said.
But, unlike the clutch 3-pointer he hit 55 seconds earlier to put Ellison ahead, Hawkins’ attempt clanged off the outside of the rim and fell harmlessly into the hands of defender Ben Emelogu as South Grand Prairie fended off the Eagles’ upset bid to win their Region I-5A quarterfinal playoff game 45-44 Tuesday evening.
“That’s how it was drawn up, and we executed it, it just didn’t go in,” said Black, who bent over and pulled his jersey over his head as the Warriors players charged their fans in the stands in celebration.
“I’d say if (Hawkins) shoots that 100 times, he probably make 99 of ’em,” Ellison head coach Alberto Jones said. “It was just one of those things, it didn’t go in.”
Hawkins, who led Ellison with 18 points and finished 4-of-10 from beyond the arc, was routinely causing havoc for South Grand Prairie. His second 3 of the game rimmed in to give the Eagles (29-7) their first lead, 16-14, with 4:46 to play in the
second quarter. He followed that with a transition jumper as Ellison closed out the first half on a 10-4 run to lead 23-18 at halftime.
“They were the No. 4 team in the state, but we came in here to win the game, so it wasn’t no ‘We’ve got nothing to lose,’ or ‘David versus Goliath,’ we came in here thinking we had a legitimate chance to win the game,” Jones said. “We were right there but we didn’t get it done.”
Coming out of the break, the Eagles continued to hold off the Warriors’ charges as 6-foot-5 junior post registered two of his three blocks in the first 3½ minutes of the third quarter. And when South Grand Prairie did score, Ellison answered with one of its own, leading 28-23 before Warriors guard Mark Howell (12 points) scored three points on back-to-back possessions — including a layup to pull within 28-26 with three minutes left in the third quarter.
But as he did most of the night, Hawkins drilled a fall-away 3 from the top of the key and Ellison junior post Ronnie Edwards hit both free throws with one second left to enter the fourth still up five, 33-28.
The lead changed hands seven more times — including five straight points from Howell — before Hawkins hit his final 3 of the night with 58 seconds left to put Ellison on top 44-43.
“It kinda was (a shot to the gut) because we had momentum, we had the crowd going, we only needed one more stop and we basically won the game, and we didn’t get that stop,” said Black, who scored 10 points. “So we had to go to a second option and … Malik just didn’t get that shot (to fall), but it was a great shot though.”
Ellison had four opportunities with the ball before the final play, nearly losing the ball twice before back-to-back timeouts and two straight fouls of Black on the ensuing inbounds as South Grand Prairie entered with fouls to spare.
“I say that this is basically a state championship game, we took the No. 4 team in the state to a one-point game, and we battled, we played our hearts out,” Black said.