February 24, 2010 8:34:00 AM
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Deion Curry wasn''t going to let anything keep him from helping the Pickens County High School boys basketball team make it to its first state championship game in 39 years.
The junior guard overcame being involved in a collision Tuesday to help Pickens County beat Sand Rock 59-54 in the Class 2A semifinals of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Final 48 State Tournament at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
The 5-foot-11 Curry scored a team-high 17 points and had six rebounds, three assists, and four steals to help Pickens County advance to its first state championship game since 1971, when it lost to Abbeville 69-50.
Pickens County (26-2), ranked No. 1 in Class 2A, will bid for its first state championship in school history at 8 p.m. Thursday when it plays Houston County at the BJCC. Houston County beat Mars Hill Bible 72-66 on Tuesday in the other semifinal.
Curry overcame a scary moment with 6 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the third quarter when he fell to the ground near Sand Rock''s free-throw line and officials had to stop the game.
He was helped to the bench and missed one minute before returning to the court. It was the only minute he didn''t play.
"Basketball is an aggressive sport and me and their player were going for the ball and we kind of collided shins," Curry said. "It set me back for about 30 seconds, and when I realized I could be out for the game I had to suck it up and do what I had to do to help lead my team.
"I was in pain, but the only thing that was going through my mind was I couldn''t let my team down. That''s what made me kind of set the pain aside and (allowed me to) go out there and help my team win the game."
Curry scored Pickens County''s first five points, and seven of its first nine points, to help it get off to a good start.
He also showed he was clutch by coming up with a steal with 20 seconds remaining and the Tornadoes leading 57-54.
"I can''t say enough about (Curry)," Pickens County coach Russ Wallace said. "He carried us in the (Central) regionals and he put us on his back again and carried us again tonight. He rolled his ankle over in practice (Monday). He''s been icing it and working it. It just shows what kind of guts he''s got. He gets on my nerves sometimes because he never listens to me, but I wouldn''t trade him for nothing because he lays it on the line every single night."
Curry''s steal came a possession after Pickens County senior Greg Jones drew a charge against Brannon Burt with 35.9 seconds to play.
"If you''re going to have one to take it, your 6-5, 235-pound center is the one who needs to be taking it," Wallace said. "I''m glad the call went our way because it could have changed the whole aspect of the game."
Sophomore guard Warren Betts also delivered for the Tornadoes. Betts was summoned from the bench when Markeithton Hall was whistled for his second foul three minutes into the game. Betts played 17 minutes and scored 11 points, making 5 of 8 shots from the field, including a 3-pointer.
"I had to step up for my team this game," Betts said. "I had to come up big. Our senior point guard, Markeithton Hall, got into foul trouble, so I had to step up and knock a couple of shots down."
The game featured six ties and three lead changes. Betts'' layup gave Pickens County its largest lead, 18-10, and from there it was close the rest of the way.
Sand Rock (28-4) rallied to take a 25-23 lead before the teams were tied at 25 at halftime.
In the second half, the score was tied at 38 and 45 before a putback by Curry helped Pickens County take the lead for good, 47-45.
The game wasn''t decided until Pickens County''s Nick Stewart made two free throws with 5.7 seconds remaining to account for the final margin.
"They had the momentum," Wallace said. "They would gain it and then we would gain it. It was a classic basketball game. The momentum shifted back and forth all game. Sand Rock played a heck of a basketball game. Those kids fought, clawed, and made big shot after big shot like we did. It just went back and forth. With a minute and a half left in the game you didn''t know who was going to win the ballgame. We got a break or two at the end of the ballgame. We won a very tough ballgame against a very solid basketball team."
Pickens County was 24 of 64 from the field (37 percent), 2 of 14 from 3-point range (14 percent), and 9 of 19 from the free-throw line (47 percent).
The Tornadoes'' defense forced 23 turnovers to make up for the poor shooting.
"We didn''t have a great game, but this team has found a way all year long to win games," Wallace said. "They''ll do things to make my blood boil, but they find a way to win."
Pickens County also overcame the shooting of Burt, who made five 3-pointers and scored a game-high 24 points.
"That kid can play," Wallace said. "He can score. He was a lot better jump shooter than I thought he''d be. You can''t leave him open. He knocked down three threes. I know we were there but not close enough to affect the shot."
Burt was the only player to score in double figures for the Wildcats.
Sand Rock outrebounded Pickens County 41-37, led by 6-5 eighth-grader Riley Norris with 13 rebounds. Dominique Jones led the Tornadoes with 10 rebounds.