And what a finish it was. Crestview unleased an 11-2 run over the next three minutes tying the game at 33-33 on a 3-pointer Makhi Jones on their way to a 39-37 overtime win.
Crestview travels to Ponte Vedra on Tuesday for a Sweet 16 matchup.
Close games are nothing new to this team. So the pressure was nothing new to the Bulldogs (20-8), who lost five games on last second shots.
“We’ve been in a bunch of close games,” Crestview coach Greg Watson said. “I knew it would be a close game.”
At times, both teams looked ready to take over.
Crestview delivered the first big blow of the game, posting an early 10-4 lead as Elston Winston, D.B. Howard, Teekari Tolbert and Jones scored in the first seven minutes. Jake Larsen hit a 3-pointer for the Panthers as time expired in the first quarter as Nease narrowed the Bulldog lead to 10-7.
Nease (19-8) was able to control the tempo with a slow-down offense, coupled with deadly 3-point shooting to go up 21-15 at the half.
At that point, the question seemed to be if the Bulldogs would be able to get into their preferred style of play, using their quickness to force turnovers and turn them into points.
“They try to keep the tempo slow and get the ball to 12 (Logan Ryan) or 5 (Larsen),” Watson said. “The game was not in our tempo. We never could get the tempo our way.”
“When we finally did, and forced some turnovers, we were able to get the crowd into the game.”
In a span of 44 seconds early in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs scored five unanswered points to cut the Nease lead to four points. Howard, who led the Bulldogs in scoring with 14 points, scored four in the quick stretch. Jones added a free throw.
When Jones nailed a 3-pointer from the corner with 3:30 left in the fourth, the Dawg Pound student section erupted, shaking the packed gym.
A Tolbert score on a tip in gave the Bulldogs a 35-33 lead, their first since midway through the second. Jack Sullivan scored for the Panthers with 2:10 left in regulation tying the game at 35-35, but neither team could find the net in the final 130 seconds of regulation.
Ryan scored his final basketball of the season with 2:22 left in overtime to put Nease in front one last time. A Russell Moorer basket with 39 seconds left in OT put the Bulldogs up one. Twelve seconds later, Moorer stole a Nease pass and dished the ball off to Jones for the game’s final basket.
A desperation shot by Nease as the horn sounded bounced awkwardly off the rim as the celebration began for Bulldogs.
Watson has watched this team improve over the course of the season, and the win Thursday was evidence of that improvement.
“In December we would have lost this game,” he said. “But we’ve grown and were able to handle the adversity. Tonight, is as proud as I’ve been of a team since the state championship (in 2019).”