Of all the players on Arlington Grace Prep to hit a game-winning 3-pointer, 7-foot center Isiah Austin might have been the most unlikely.
But after having watched its seemingly comfortable lead fade completely away in one quarter, fourth-ranked Grace Prep needed its biggest man to come up with his biggest shot of the night.
Austin, who has committed to Baylor, sent the crowd at Trinity Christian’s gym from jubilation to disbelief when he banked in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from just across the half-court line for a 63-61 victory over TCHS in a TAPPS District 1-4A clash Friday night.
The game-winner came after second-ranked Trinity Christian’s Parker Wentz hit a layup between two Grace Prep defenders with four seconds remaining for a 61-60 lead.
Wentz was fouled on the play but missed the free throw, allowing Grace Prep (13-6, 3-0 in district) to get the ball up the floor quickly. TCHS (23-2, 3-1) almost got a steal but Austin got the ball right at the half-court line, took a dribble and launched the desperation shot, which banked in as the buzzer sounded.
“You’ve got to play to the final horn,” Trinity Christian coach Todd Duncan said. “I was proud of our guys because they did everything we asked them to do. We gave them a lot of points early that kind of get lost in the way it ended but I told our guys I was proud of them and the effort to come back. The kid made a tough shot and somewhere you have to give them credit for that.”
Grace Prepheld six different double-digit leads through the first 31/2 periods. Fight as they might, Trinity couldn’t break Grace Prep’s stranglehold until the final four minutes of the game.
“It’s just amazing what sense of urgency will do,” Duncan said. “You try to instill that into the guys to play the whole game, but obviously they’re so talented that it’s one thing to say it and another thing to do it. We finally realized we’ve got to go finish and start making plays instead of hoping to make plays. Once we started doing that, you get some confidence and that breeds more confidence and you start making more plays.”
TCHS began chipping away when Kyle Wheeler and Wentz hit consecutive 3-pointers to pull TCHS to within 58-53. Wentz then hit two free throws with 2:01 left to make it a one-possession game.
Austin got a put-back with 1:23 remaining to extend the lead to 60-55, but Wheeler, who had 14 points for Trinity Christian, answered with a layup 28 seconds later to cut the lead back to three.
Wentz, who led all scorers with 22 points, came up with a steal at halfcourt and converted it into a layup with 42.6 seconds remaining to cut the lead to one. After a Grace Prep timeout, Jelon Hornbeck turned it over in the paint, allowing Trinity Christian one last shot.
Jamal Branch had Wentz blanketed initially, but Wentz got a step on Branch, drove the lane between two defenders, and his scoop shot rolled around the rim before falling through and sending the crowd into a frenzy.
That same crowd held its collective breath when Wentz missed the free throw. TCHS had a foul to give but couldn’t get in position to foul before Grace Prep got the ball up court to Austin, who launched the game-winner then high-stepped it back up the court in jubilation.
“When Parker made that shot I just felt like, ‘Wow, we made it all the way back and we’re going to win the game,’” Duncan said. “But unfortunately we left too much time on the clock.”
Grace Prep was led by Branch (team-high 20 points), Jelon Hornbeak (14 points) and Emanuel Mudiay (12 points) who did most of the damage for Grace Prep. Austin finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“That was a crazy shot at the end,” Grace Prep coach Ray Forsett said. “Hopefully that turns our season around to do what we want to do this year which is get it at the end. We just fought through, it was a tough win and a crazy shot at the end. Big man turned it over and said in the lockerroom he thought he’d lost it for us but I told him not to worry, just make a play at the end.”
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ARLINGTON GRACE PREP 63, TRINITY CHRISTIAN 61
ARLINGTON GRACE PREP – Mudiay 6 0-0 12, Hornbeak 5 3-4 14, Thornton 0 0-0 0, Dean 0 0-0 0, Branch 8 3-4 20, Thomas 1 1-3 3, Z. Ghorley 0 0-1 0, Austin 6 0-0 13. Totals 26 8-13 63.
TRINITY CHRISTIAN – Wentz 7 7-8 22, Andrews 2 2-2 7, J. Stephenson 2 1-2 5; Miller 3 0-0 8, Ammons 0 0-0 0, Wheeler 6 0-0 14, Durham 2 0-0 4. Totals 23 10-12 61.
Arlington Grace Prep 16 22 13 12 — 63
Trinity Christian 16 13 12 20 — 61
3-point goals: Grace Prep 3 (Hornbeak, Branch, Austin); TCHS 7 (Wentz, Andrews, J. Stephenson, Miller 2, Wheeler 2). Total fouls: Grace Prep 12, TCHS 9. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: none. Records: Arlington Grace Prep 13-6, 3-0 in TAPPS 1-4A; Trinity Christian 23-2, 3-1.