By PATRICK CASEY
The Walton Braves boys basketball team rallied from a three-point deficit in the final two minutes on the road at South Walton to steal a 69-67 victory on senior Shaq Huffman’s rebound of a missed shot by Amos Williams that he banked in as time expired. Huffman, who got rid of the basketball with 0.1 seconds on the clock, banked the ball off the glass and in from the middle of the lane to start the celebration for the Walton bench.
Senior guard DeShun Tucker had drained a three-pointer to tie the game moments before and then blocked a Vinnie Ciurleo shot attempt at the rim to start a scramble for the rebound that eventually wound up in the hands of junior Amos Williams. Walton then bilked the final 40 seconds off the clock to take the last shot, leading to Williams three-point shot and Huffman’s climactic rebound basket for the win.
Walton(13-5) led for most of the first half as each team shot well from the floor with the Braves holding a 44-41 lead at intermission. Tucker and Huffman put up 10 points apiece in the first half with Nitro Gee providing six points from under the basket.
South Walton dominated the rebounding effort for most of the game, rallying to take the lead in the second half as Wyatt Kemper and Gene Hasse battled for rebounds and combined to score 25 points on the night with nearly all of their shots coming from drives to the basket and rebound buckets with an assortment of free throws mixed in. The Seahawks hit 17-of-27 free throws in the game and made 5-of-6 shots from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter but a couple of critical turnovers in the final three minutes aided Walton’s rally.
Tucker, who was held scoreless in the first quarter, went off for 24 points while Huffman added 14 on the night. Walton hit 30-of-69 shots from the field but went to the free throw line only once in the game as Nitro Gee missed a free throw after being fouled on his first made basket of the night in the first quarter.
Walton led 55-54 entering the fourth quarter but the Braves struggled with their shooting, hitting only 11-of-34 shots in the second half after lighting up the nets over the first 16 minutes of play by shooting 19-of-35 from the field. The Braves also had 20 turnovers in the game with 11 coming in the second half, helping the Seahawks to take the lead by as much as four points in the fourth quarter.
Ken Randolph and Shaq Huffman each had an important basket in the fourth quarter but Tucker tallied 10 of his points in the final frame and his three-pointer to tie the contest with less than 90 seconds left likely saved the Braves from their second loss in four days.
South Walton(12-9) deserved a better fate as they lost to Walton for the 19th time in 20 overall meetings in boys basketball. Five players scored in double figures as Darien Moore and Bishop Waldrop each had 14 points with Wyatt Kemper finishing with 11 and both John Wolfe and Elisha Gundrum adding 10 each.
The Seahawks had 18 turnovers on the night but hit 22-of-58 shots from the field and seemed to have all the momentum they needed in the fourth quarter to pick up the victory. The loss was the second game in 11 days that South Walton has lost at the buzzer as a shot by Port St. Joe from half-court snatched a 57-55 defeat from the jaws of victory against the Sharks on Jan. 11.
Walton likely needed an emotional lift after losing to Marianna for the second time this season on Friday night in a 55-47 home loss that dropped the Braves to 1-2 in District 1 of Class 4A. In that contest, Tucker scored 27 points but got little scoring from his teammates as the Braves rebounding woes were once again evident against an athletic and taller Bulldogs squad.
Amos Williams added nine points in that game and Alex Campbell had five points with Ken Randolph adding four and Huffman two points. The Braves did not play that badly in the contest and stayed close the entire night but dropped their record to 14-33 against the Jackson County squad over the last 25 years.
Walton must now travel to Pensacola and defeat the Catholic Crusaders on Friday night to force a three-way tie atop the district and force a blind draw for the top seed and an automatic playoff berth. A loss to the Crusaders would drop Walton to the bottom of the district and a third meeting with Marianna on Feb. 8 in Pensacola in the lone district semi-final.
Team Notes: South Walton coach John Davies is in his sixth year at the school and holds a 69-88 mark in that time. The Seahawks are hoping for a Port St. Joe win over Bozeman on Friday night to grab the third seed in their upcoming district tournament which they host in two weeks. Walton coach Brad West is in his third season and holds a record of 33-35 at the school. DeShun Tucker has 904 varsity points scored in his career after the South Walton game on Monday night. Walton won the junior varsity game over Marianna 43-29 and over South Walton 53-22. The win over South Walton guaranteed the Braves a winning season for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign.