Maurice Dixon

@WriturRece | mdixon27@gmail.com

ACWORTH — Landers Nolley made sure Langston Hughes left the Lake City Classic on a high note.

With less than five seconds remaining in the game, Nolley, a 6-7 junior shooting guard, drilled a jumper from the elbow to propel the Panthers to a thrilling 74-73 win over Collins Hill on the final day of action at Allatoona High on December 30.

“Landers made some big plays,” Langston Hughes coach Rory Welsh said. “He made shots. He is a scorer so that is what he does but the biggest play he made was diving on the floor for that loose ball–that possession won us the game. This is a game where you get better as a team. We felt like we got better and made strides in the right direction. We needed a tough game where we needed to fight and not blow a team out or lose our morale because they counter punched us. Every time they punched us we punched back and we made the right plays at the right time.”

After converting a go-ahead layup while being fouled with 47 seconds left and diving for a loose ball 23 ticks later, Nolley put his team in the driver seat to possibly seal the game at the foul line. But on the ensuing inbounds, Kenny Stanciel drew a charge against Ahmid Bryant, turning the ball back over to Eagles with plenty of time to tie or take the lead.

The latter is exactly what Collins Hill did.

After JaQuan Morris (18 points) took the inbounds pass, he made a move to the basket, unwisely left his feet but avoided a charging foul and dished the ball to the wing to Justin Lee, who nailed his third 3-pointer of the half for a 73-72 edge with 10 seconds left.

“That kid really surprised me,” Welsh said. “I did not know he could shoot the ball like that. I thought he was your regular big man who could block shots, rebound and finish around the rim but that kid made shots. He stretched the floor. [Morris] was bouncy. He could shoot off the dribble and off screens. That is a very good team and very well-coached team. That team was executing their stuff too. It was a good test for us.”

Despite Lee’s shot, Nolley, who also sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer in the third quarter, was still confident the game would end with his team ahead.

“It was too much time left to even think about losing,” Nolley said. “I just knew we were going to get an opportunity and if we took it we were going to capitalize on it.”

But an even bigger shot was in store, and after milking a little clock, Nolley (25 points) made a move towards the basket but stepped back and drained a jumper from the corner of the foul line with three seconds remaining and the victory since Collins Hill failed to get a shot off.

“It was just second nature,” said Nolley of his final shot. “I saw the opportunity and I took it. I had to set him up because he was already leaning. It was just perfect.”

The Eagles (13-3) trailed by as many as nine points in the second half until Lee (21 points) made a 3-pointer for a 62-62 tie with 5:31 left in the fourth quarter. Chris Parks (19) made two free throws and converted a three-point play in that time span to briefly keep Collins Hill ahead.

Derrick Cook (13 points) made some nice one-on-one plays down the stretch for the Panthers and fellow senior Khalil Cuffee (21) shot the ball well from deep in the third quarter.

“That is what he has been doing for us his whole career,” said Welsh of Cuffee. “He is the first four-year starter in the school’s history. He’s a 1,000-point scorer and already signed to Southeast Missouri State. He had a really good tournament. Him and Landers have really started to jell together and learn to play off of each other. It makes us a team that is very hard to beat when both of those guys are clicking on the same page.”

Langston Hughes will return to action at home January 6 against region opponent Mays.

“We’re in a tough region,” Welsh said. “We needed a good tournament like this to prepare us for the second half of the season. The good part about the second half of our region schedule is that we have most of our games at home. We have a 5-0 region record and hopefully this game prepares us to go and make our region record even better.”

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