JaJuan Smith took off his jersey and threw it into the crowd after draining a 3-pointer from the corner with 2.6 seconds left to lift the News Sentinel to a 132-129 win over First Tennessee in the Pilot Rocky Top League on Monday night at Bearden High School.
"It feels real good and this should send us to the championship,'' said Smith, a former University of Tennessee star who's still trying to latch on with an NBA team. "It was the moment, I got caught up in the moment.''
The winner of Wednesday's 9 p.m. game between Ray's ESG (3-2) and the News Sentinel (4-1) will play in the championship game against HT Group (4-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday night.
The Sentinel trailed First Tennessee (2-3) by as many as 18 points.
Some 30 seconds before stripping off his shirt, Smith stripped UT point guard Bobby Maze of the ball with the Sentinel trailing 129-127.
Smith drove to the basket and was intentionally fouled by Chattanooga's Ricky Taylor.
"I was just trying to stop him from going to the hole,'' Taylor said. "That's why I'm in this league, to learn.''
Smith made both free throws with 27.7 seconds left, and the Sentinel ran down the clock before taking the last shot.
"JaJuan and Dane (Bradshaw), the veterans of the team, finally fell in love with me and I fell in love with them,'' said UT rising sophomore Scotty Hopson, who scored 27 of his 41 points in the second half. "Our chemistry is coming together.''
And just in the nick of time, as Maze had kept the First Tennessee operation running smoothly, dishing out 10 assists to go with his 23 points.
"JaJuan baited the handoff, and he did a good job getting the ball,'' Maze said. "It's great getting to play a guy like JaJuan, who plays such great defense.''
Emmanuel Negedu of UT scored a personal-best 38 points for First Tennessee, as the Sentinel struggled to find anyone that could match up with him.
"You're going to see more of E-Man (Negedu) this year,'' Maze said. "He doesn't complain about anything, and he always plays hard.''
Former UT player Rashard Lee added 33 points, and Taylor had 25.
Smith had 22 points for the News Sentinel, UT's Brian Williams 21 and Skylar McBee had 19 while making 5 of 10 of his 3-point attempts.
"Never doubt us,'' said Bradshaw, who returned from his honeymoon in Hawaii for the game.
Isiah Victor had to return to his family in Kentucky and did not play in the game for First Tennessee as expected.
HT Group 125, ChoiceSpine 118: Wayne Chism scored 28 points to lead HT Group (4-1) to the title game again.
"Last year Tyler's team beat mine and we didn't get there,'' Chism said. "This would be my first time to get to the title.''
Cameron Tatum scored 35 points to lead ChoiceSpine (0-5) and Michael Smith of East Tennessee State added 31.
Chris Lofton did not play for ChoiceSpine, as he has left for Boston where he will play in the summer league for the Celtics.
Former UT player C.J. Black fell and hit his head early into the game and was forced to leave the ChoiceSpine lineup.
Ray's 120, Richardson Construction 118: C.J. Watson, a former UT player with the Golden State Warriors, scored 28 points, turning his level of play up a notch to keep Ray's ESG (3-2) alive in the playoff picture.
UT incoming freshman Kenny Hall hit both ends of a 1-and-1 free throw situation for the winning points with 14.4 seconds left. Hall had 24 points, Ryan Westbrooks had 23, Chris Conner had 18 and Jon Higgins 16 for Ray's.
Former UT player Damon Johnson looked for the last shot for Richardson Construction (2-3), but Watson switched over on him and smothered Johnson's shot attempt at the buzzer.
Tony White Jr. of College of Charleston led Richardson Construction with 28 points, hitting 9 of 17 of his 3-pointers, while UT's Tyler Smith had 22 and Johnson and UT's Josh Tabb 20 apiece.
Ray's can play in the title game with a win over the News Sentinel Wednesday and has at least clinched a spot in the 3-4 game at 6 p.m. Thursday.