LILBURN — To give a good idea of how Saturday night’s first-round game of the Class AAAAA state tournament against Roswell went for Berkmar’s boys, the last second pretty much summed it up.
Trailing by two points, Yonel Brown tried to purposely miss a free throw to give the Patriots a chance for game-tying tap in.
Instead, his line-drive shot rattled in, which pulled Berkmar to within a point, but allowed the visiting Hornets to simply inbound the ball and leave with a 57-56 win.
That was the theme of the evening for the Patriots, whose season ended at 20-8 despite a heroic effort from juniors Brandon Thompson, who had 19 points and six rebounds before fouling out, and Brown, who finished with 16 points and three steals.
They spotted Roswell (14-15), which got a game-high 30 points from Sean Brennan, an early lead and spent the rest of the night trying to climb what seemed like Mt. Everest.
And every time it looked like they would finally reach the summit, the Hornets, who advanced to take on Mill Creek in Wednesday’s second round, would knock them back down to the foot of the mountain.
“You can’t dig yourself a hole against a good team, especially in the state tournament,” Berkmar coach Greg Phillips said. “We dug ourselves a deep hole that we just couldn’t get out of.”
The first shovel of dirt in that hole was Berkmar’s inability to stop Roswell’s dribble penetration in the lane in the first half, and especially early in the first quarter.
Brennan scored 10 of his 12 first-half points in the opening period, six of them off pull-up jumpers on drives into the lane, and another two off free throws that came after he was fouled on a similar drive.
That helped the Hornets build as much as an eight-point lead before settling for a 17-10 advantage after the first eight minutes.
Berkmar tried to answer by picking up the pace, and used a 10-2 run that carried over into the second quarter to pull even at 17-17 following Thompson’s transition layup with 4:42 left in the half.
But Roswell answered with the final six points of the half, four of which came on Taylor Burchett free throws, which sent the Hornets into intermission with a 23-17 lead.
Those free throws foreshadowed what was to come in a foul-filled second half that saw an abundance of violations, four combined technical fouls — including one each on Phillips and his brother, Roswell coach Ty Phillips — and 39 combined free throws in the second half.
Those free throws would play a big role down the stretch after Roswell ended the third quarter on a 12-2 run and then scored the first five points of the fourth to erase a brief Berkmar lead and claim its biggest advantage at 41-28 with 6:46 left.
But Thompson began to heat up, scoring 12 points during a 16-4 run that cut the deficit to just 45-44 after he hit one of two free throws with 1:59 to play.
The Patriots then had three chances to take the lead over the next two possessions, but missed twice on one before committing a turnover on the next.
Still, they wouldn’t go away, pulling as close as 54-53 after a 3-pointer by Brown with 27 seconds left, and then getting the ball back when Roswell committed a turnover after a timeout.
Brown then got an open look at the basket, but his 3-pointer for the lead bounced off the back iron, and Roswell hit three of four free throws over the final 24.5 seconds — two by Brennan — to set up the final sequence that allowed them to escape with the win.
“I think we played through a lot of adversity,” Ty Phillips said. “We knew they (Berkmar) were going to come at us, and they did.
“There was (a lot of emotion), but it wasn’t the whole brother against brother thing. It was two teams giving so much effort, you wanted to bad for the kids. ... We feel fortunate to get out of here with a win.”