February 26, 2010 7:58:00 AM
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Russ Wallace believes in miracles.
The Pickens County High School boys basketball coach is a believer after watching his team earn an improbable victory on the state''s biggest stage.
Pickens County set an example Thursday night why teams should never give up as it rallied to beat Houston County 88-86 in triple overtime in the Class 2A championship game of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Final 48 State Tournament.
No. 1 Pickens County (27-2) scored seven unanswered in the final 8.8 seconds of the third overtime to rally from an 86-81 deficit and earn its first state title in school history.
"I heard one of the guys out there say this was Jim Valvano all over," Wallace said in reference to the former North Carolina State coach, who made the famous speed about never giving up prior to dying from cancer. "You just never give up. I think my kids did give up at one time. They were over there crying and didn''t understand. I told them, ''Guys there''s time on the clock and until the final horn blows it''s not over.''
"I''ll be honest with you. I said about 50 times in the last two minutes of the game and the three overtimes, ''Dear Lord just help us overcome, Dear Lord just help. Dear Lord you''ve been doing it all year long, just help us overcome.'' The Good Lord provided a miracle for us and Pickens County High School out there tonight."
The game was also a lesson for Pickens County sophomore guard Nick Stewart never to give up.
Stewart made the winning the basket when he stole an inbounds pass and hit a jumper from the right wing with 0.3 seconds remaining.
"When they were up by four I was like, ''Man it''s over,''" Stewart said. "Coach Wallace told me never give up. Coach told me to never give up, so I never gave up."
Pickens County tied the score at 86 with 5.9 seconds remaining on two free throws by tournament MVP Deion Curry and immediately pressed on the inbounds.
"I saw my teammates Deion Curry and Dominique Jones trap them and we pressed them and saw the dude''s eyes that they were going to throw it to and I just saw it and stole it," Stewart said. "I just said I had to make that shot. I just threw it up there, hoping it would go in. I didn''t even look at it. My teammates jumped on my back and told me we won the state championship."
Stewart''s steal and basket set off a wild celebration by the Tornadoes and their fans sitting behind their bench.
As the final buzzer sounded, Houston County''s Earnest Tyson slammed the ball onto the floor and collapsed to the ground as did several of his teammates.
"I can''t say enough about Nick Stewart," Wallace said. "We got in 10 (pressing defense) because we knew with five seconds left they were going to be in a hurry to get down court for a shot. For a sophomore to be that heady and step in there and steal a pass and then knock down a 17-footer is just amazing."
Curry made his two free throws after Houston County''s Earnest Tyson missed two free throws with seven seconds left and a chance to extend an 86-84 lead.
Curry missed two free throws with 2 minutes, 7 seconds remaining in the third overtime and another with 2:02 left while trying to convert a three-point play, but he made up for it with 5.9 seconds to go.
"It''s now or never," Curry said of his thoughts at the foul line. "I had to help provide a way for my team."
Curry got the Tornadoes within 86-84 when he made a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 8.8 seconds remaining.
The final stretch wasn''t the only time the Tornadoes had to rally. After leading 28-25 at halftime, they fell behind 38-28 with 5:50 remaining in the third quarter after being outscored 13-0 to begin the period.
Pickens County didn''t tie the score until Curry hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:56 left in regulation to knot it at 60.
The teams battled back and forth from there as the score was tied at 65 at the end of regulation, 72 after the first overtime, and 78 after the second overtime.
The game was tied 14 times and featured 17 lead changes.
Stewart helped Pickens County get back into the game by making two 3-pointers in the third quarter and two in the fourth.
Curry had a game-high 31 points to lead the Tornadoes, while Lajuan Doss (20), Stewart (17), and Markeithton Hall (11) also scored in double figures. Doss joined Curry and Stewart on the all-tournament team.
Houston County (26-10) had six players score in double figures, led by Tyreek Granger with 22.
Pickens County players and Wallace gathered for a team picture with the championship trophy afterward without Doss, who was put on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital to be treated for dehydration.
"He was cramping," Wallace said. "He just ran out of gas. In the first half he played 15 out of 16 minutes. When we went in at halftime he was short of breath. I had to get the trainers to come in there. We''ve had the stomach bug. I had two kids throwing up all day. He said his stomach was messed up and he took some medicine before the game, which I didn''t know. That might of had something to do with it. He was sick at halftime, but he came back out here in the second half and sucked it up and tried to do it and he just ran out of gas. He left it all out on the floor, which I told him to do. I said if you want to win a state championship, you''ve got to leave every ounce of energy you''ve got on that floor, and LaJuan Doss did that, and so did the rest of this basketball team."