Wando could hear its No. 1 playoff seed slipping away with the sound of each free throw clanking off the iron.
The defending state champion Warriors missed three free throws in the final 2.4 seconds to allow James Island to escape with a 38-37 win and grab firm control of first place in Region 7-AAAA.
The victory was James Island’s second one-point win over Wando in the past three weeks. James Island won, 63-62, on Jan. 16 after losing the previous nine straight against Wando.
“Nobody gave us a shot,” James Island head coach Stan Wilkins said as he fought back tears of joy. “I love these kids. They just have a nucleus about them that they won’t lose.”
Wando (16-5, 5-2) went to the free-throw line down two points with 2.1 seconds to play. The Warriors made the first, missed the second but corralled the rebound and drew the foul with no time showing on the game clock. Both free-throw attempts missed off the front of the rim.
James Island (16-4, 7-0) scored just five points in the fourth quarter, none in the final five minutes, but was still able to hold on for the win as Wando missed on four shot attempts that would have tied the game, not including the struggles at the line.
“I felt great about us closing out that game,” Wando head coach David Eaton said. “We had the momentum. They’d been stalling with the ball. But we couldn’t finish it. It just didn’t work out.”
James Island was dominant early, scoring the game’s first six points and holding Wando without a first-quarter field goal for the first time this season.
“We just weren’t patient,” Eaton said. “James Island is tough on defense. They stood their ground and I think we started to feel like we had to make a play and got impatient.”
“You just don’t do that to a team like (Wando),” Wilkins said.
The Warriors found their first basket two minutes into second quarter, down 12 points, on a layup from Matt Pegram. The senior center was one of the lone bright spots for the Wando offense, scoring a game-high 14 points.
Maurice Hardimon scored eight of his team-high 10 points in the first quarter. Noah Munn added five points in the second, and James Island take a 22-13 lead into halftime.
Brady Schuck scored the first five points of the third quarter as part of a 7-0 run that opened a 16-point James Island lead, its largest of the night. Schuck finished with nine points, seven in the second half.
Wando countered with its 2-2-1 press defense and immediately forced four straight turnovers as it marched back into the game with a 10-0 run, led by a five-point spurt from Pegram.
The Warriors whittled the deficit down to six points with a minute left in the third quarter — the first time the game had been that close since the 4:35 mark of the first quarter.
“We knew they were going to make another run on us,” Wilkins said. “We just had to bear down. We worked together. We fought for each other. It’s just a brotherhood. I’m just so proud of these kids. I can’t believe it.”
James Island takes a two-game lead in Region 7 with just three games left to play. The Trojans have already defeated each of their final three opponents once this season by an average margin of 13 points.