LILBURN -- Like most basketball players, Will Clifton admits he occasionally practices a few half-court shots for a little fun.
"But you never expect to get a chance to do it in a game," the Wesleyan junior guard said.
Clifton did get an opportunity, though, as the final second ticked off Tuesday night and he didn't miss.
The 3-point heave from just past the center line swished through with the scoreboard showing zeroes to give the Wolves an ultra-dramatic 52-49 victory over host Providence Christian in the Region 5-A Division B opener for both teams.
"At first, I didn't think it had a chance," Clifton said. "Then I thought, 'Wow! It might go in.' I still can't believe it."
Clifton continued shaking his head in near disbelief after jumping for joy at midcourt with his happy teammates. None had ever been in a game that ended quite like this.
Wesleyan, ahead by 12 points in the third quarter, seemed destined to have to watch Providence celebrate a comeback victory. But Shane Smith was fouled with 3.3 seconds left and hit both ends of a one-plus-one to tie the game.
Providence tried to rush the ball up court in an attempt to avoid overtime, but lost the ball. Clifton grabbed it and, with no time to really think, let his shot fly just as the buzzer sounded.
"I wasn't sure if I shot it in time or not," said Clifton, who finished with 15 points.
Providence coach Ivan Iverson, trying to digest the heartbreaking loss afterwards, didn't think he had.
"I don't see how there was enough time," Iverson said. "But they counted it and we'll have to live with that."
The victory was the eighth straight for Wesleyan (10-5) over Providence (9-7), but the Stars' gym has been a tough place for the Wolves to play.
The Stars handed the Wolves an overtime loss in 2009 and lost twice at Providence in the 2010 region tournament before bouncing back to win the Class A state championship.
Clifton might not have had a chance at a bid for a YouTube highlight if Providence had been able to cash in at the foul line.
The Stars were just 7-for-15 and had several costly misses in the closing minute.
"We gave them an opportunity by missing those free throws and they took advantage of it," Iverson said.
In addition to his tying free throws, Smith had his usual strong all-round game. The senior forward had 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Clifton's winning shot was his second 3-pointer of the game and Wesleyan's ninth three by Smith.
Kareem Adekunle, a 6-foot-4 senior, led Providence with 19 points and seven rebounds. Nate Bucher and Charlie Scott each hit a trio of 3-pointers for the Stars and finished with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Wesleyan led 27-23 at intermission after a first half that featured nine 3-pointers, five by Providence. The Wolves led by seven points several times, but couldn't seize control.
It was the second half where the big momentum swings took place. Wesleyan scored the first eight points of the third quarter, going up 35-23. But Providence battled back to trail just 40-38 be the end of the quarter and took the lead on a 3-point play by Adekunle to start the final period.
With Bucher scoring six straight points, Providence led 47-43 midway in the fourth. But the Stars, which went to their delay game, didn't score another basket and made just 2 of 5 free throws.
The teams have a rematch on Jan. 27 at Wesleyan. Providence, which has lost to Wesleyan three times in each of the past two seasons, will be out to steal a road win themselves this time.
Wesleyan girls 66, Providence 23
Ahead only 26-13 at halftime, No. 1-ranked Wesleyan outscored Providence Christian 22-1 in the third quarter and rolled to a 66-23 victory over the Stars in their Region 5-A Division B opener.
Four-time defending state champion Wesleyan (12-2) got 15 points from Holli Wilkins and 10 from Katie Frerking. Taylor Blackmon had eight points, seven steals and six assists, while Joshlyn Belcher contributed eight points and six rebounds.
Almost all the offense for Providence (5-9) was provided by Erika Gotfredson, who had 18 points.
It was the 21st straight victory over Providence for Wesleyan, which lost six of the first seven games in the series.
Wesleyan, ranked No. 21 in the ESPN Fab 50, doesn't play again until Saturday, when Yancey Gymnasium will be the site of the Battle of the Southeast showcase. The Wolves play Oak Hill Academy of Virginia.