It was one of those slow-motion moments, when one shot was nearly frozen in time as it approached the rim as time expired Friday in a dramatic season-finale between rivals Northwestern and Rock Hill.
The Bearcats rallied from a double-digit deficit to tie the game, 49-49, on a deep 3-pointer from forward Jamel Jones with 1:48 remaining.
Two possessions later, Northwestern regained the lead, 51-49, when Rontavious McClure followed a Keith Bell miss with an emphatic slam dunk on an offensive rebound with 14 seconds remaining.
Rock Hill whistled timeout and executed a final shot attempt, but Jalen Reid's lay-up rolled off the rim. The Trojan rebound attempt, however, went out of bounds with 1.0 second remaining.
Following another timeout, the inbound pass came to forward Eduardo Minuci. His shot attempt, which carried the playoff hopes of both teams, hung in the air for what appeared to be an eternity.
"It was going in slow motion," Northwestern guard Mustafa Love said afterwards. "It took forever to get to the rim."
When finally arriving to the rim Munici's shot attempt rolled around before falling off target. That triggered a massive Trojan celebration at midcourt following the dramatic 51-49 victory.
"Coach said during the time-out to not let them get off a 3-point shot; if they did, we were to make sure to contest it," Love said. "That's what we did and fortunately for us, it did not go in."
The victory boosts the Trojans into the final playoff spot in Region 3-AAAA. Northwestern will play Irmo in the opening round on Thursday.
Northwestern coach Mike Gossett said that the victory is a satisfying conclusion to a hard-fought regular season.
"What can you say about this bunch; we have a starting five and the rest who could be described as a group of J.V. players who kept getting better," Gossett said. "They overcame a lot this season, but stuck together and never quit."
Rock Hill, meanwhile, suffered its sixth straight loss.
"This is tough," said Bearcat ace J.J. Jones, who led all scorer with 26 points. "We ran that play 1,000 times this year and made that shot every time.
"We were down by eight and fought back to tie the game with a shot to win, so we were where we wanted to be. The shot just did not go down for us at the end."
Northwestern used a 21-point second quarter to seize a 30-22 lead at the half. The Trojans maintained the edge by nine, 41-32, near the end of the third.
However, Rock Hill gradually pulled closer until Jones drained the 3-pointer to tie the score, 49-49, with 1:48 remaining.
On the final Northwestern possession, Bell drive the lane for a lay-up attempt. The ball bounced off, but McClure was a perfect position to grab the rebound and slam the ball through for the winning points.
Gossett said that the Trojans will face Irmo, the defending state champs, in the opening round. But following Friday's drama, Gossett is willing to play anyone next week.
"I don' t care who it is; we were willing to play anybody," he said. " Just as long as we are playing."
Rock Hill 49
Northwestern -Keith Bell 11, Jhante McMillian 5, Keenan Orr 3, Rontavious McClure 8, Mustafa Love 16, Mason Rudolph 8
Rock Hill -- Jamel Jones 26, Eric Robinson 2, Eduardo Minuci 5,Warren Vinson 2, Jaylen Reid 9, Jaleel Scott 3, Deonte Fleming 2
3-pointers -- Northwestern 4 (Orr 2, McMillan 1, McClure 1), Rock Hill 4 (Jones 3, Minuci 1). Team fouls --Northwestern 20, Rock Hill 17. Fouled out -- None.
Records: Northwestern 12-12, 3-7 in Region 3-AAAA; Rock Hill 15-8, 2-8.