COLUMBIA -- Great Falls built a 20-point lead in the first half only to see Hunter-Kinard-Tyler rally behind an amazing performance from Shalika Smalls as the Lady Red Devils fell 65-64 in a game that will linger in the minds of the Great Falls community for a long time.
The win put the Lady Trojans, winners of two of the last three state championships, back into the upper state finals.
The game turned out to be a duel between two players wearing number 12. Shardae Lynn scored 25 points, but Smalls trumped Lynn with an unbelievable 46 points, including the game-winner with 2.3 seconds remaining.
Trailing by one after two free throws from Lynn with half a minute left, the Lady Trojans had one final opportunity to advance.
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Great Falls (14-11) knocked the ball out of bounds with 14 seconds to go, where Hunter-Kinard-Tyler (22-5) inbounded from the sideline opposite the benches.
Everyone in the neutral-site Richland Northeast gym knew Smalls would get the ball for the final shot. Great Falls played superb defense, but couldn't come up with a loose ball before Smalls finally got a shot to fall.
Smalls took the ball from the sideline and drove to the free throw line, where she attempted a jumper. The ball rolled off the rim, and a tip-back from Shelia Jamison followed suit.
As the clock ticked toward zeroes, players from both teams desperately tried to grab the ball as it rolled around on the court for what seemed like minutes.
Eventually, Smalls ended up snagging the ball and threw up a desperation shot from about 10 feet on the right side. The shot banked off the backboard and in for the game's final points.
The game-winner came with too little time for Great Falls to get another shot off.
Great Falls opened up a 20-point lead with 3:05 remaining in the first half after Nedra Lynn scored on an easy layup off an assist from Montica Simpson. Shardae Lynn scored 13 of her team-high 25 points during the first 12 minutes of the game and put her team in excellent position to advance.
With a 31-11 lead, no one expected what would happen next. Smalls took HKT over and inched her squad back into the game. Without a significant run, the Lady Trojans little by little chipped into the lead.
It was all Smalls from that point on. Her points by quarters were 16, 15, and 13 over the final three periods. The Lady Devils tried several different defenses, but could do nothing to stop Smalls.
Her final bucket was the ultimate heartbreaker.
Great Falls handled the Lady Trojans' defensive pressure and had several easy buckets in transition. Along with Shardae Lynn's 25 points, Sasha Hopson added 18 while Nedra Lynn added a dozen points and 10 rebounds.
"We knew coming into the game that (Smalls) was a heck of a player," Great Falls coach Jeff Holmes said. "She basically willed her team to a win tonight. Our kids played well tonight, but we just did not have an answer for Smalls.
"The loss stings, but our team played hard tonight and have come a long way since starting the season 3-8, to getting to within one shot of the upper state championship game. I could not be more pleased with our effort and how hard we played; tonight the ball just did not bounce our way."
Great Falls 21 15 14 14 -- 64
H-K-T 5 18 23 19 -- 65
Class AAAA boys
Chester 65, Travelers Rest 57
Class A girls
Hunter-Kinard-Tyler 65, Great Falls 64
Class A boys
Calhoun County vs. Great Falls (at Richland Northeast), 7 p.m.
Class AAAA girls
South Pointe vs. Dorman (at Clemson)