SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Yes, Huntington was missing its top scorer, but anyone expecting South Charleston to have an easy time Thursday night was way out of bounds.
Which is just about where SC's Brandon Knapper launched his game-winning shot.
Knapper nailed a 25-footer from the right sideline as time expired, giving the Black Eagles a thrilling 61-58 victory in a key MSAC West Division game in front of a near-capacity crowd at SC High School.
A.D. Cunningham turned in a double-double for SC (21 points, 12 rebounds) and Knapper had 14 points.
The win keeps SC (10-1, 2-0) in first place in its division as it seeks a spot in the Mountain State Athletic Conference championship game, and gives the Black Eagles a de facto two-game West lead over the Highlanders (8-2, 1-1) because of tiebreakers.
"That's good for him,'' SC coach Vic Herbert said of Knapper, "because he struggled tonight offensively. He wasn't his normal self. But for a kid to have that much confidence in himself to knock down that shot - that's why I told him at the end, 'I don't care if you've missed 20 in a row tonight. You're taking that last shot.'''
Before Knapper's clutch 3, the Class AAA No. 2 Highlanders pulled off some magic of their own despite being without leading scorer and rebounder Arick Nicks, who sat out the back end of a two-game suspension for being ejected in a Jan. 23 contest.
They trailed 58-52 with the clock running inside 40 seconds and missed two shots, but got the rebound on each. Anthony Meadows (20 points. 10 rebounds) then drained a long-range 3 with 29 seconds left to make it 58-55.
SC beat defensive pressure to get the ball across midcourt, but Huntington's Chancelor Wooding swiped the ball and the Highlanders beat a scrambling defense, getting the ball to their most dangerous outside shooter, Tavian Dunn-Martin, standing alone at the top of the key. He swished a 3 with 12 seconds remaining to knot it.
The ball bounded away and SC wasn't able to corral it and call a timeout until just 6.4 seconds were left.
"We put ourselves in a bad position to start with,'' Herbert said. "They hit a 3 from NBA range and then get an uncontested 3 by Martin because the kid guarding him - who's not supposed to leave him for any reason - runs off of him to cover a shooter in the corner and that kid just passes it back to Martin.
"As a coach, you're pulling your hair out because that's the one kid we don't want shooting the 3 . . . To me, all things being equal, the 3 we hit at the end was poetic justice.''
SC then inbounded the ball to Kentre Grier, who dribbled frantically down the right side, stopped about 15 feet shy of the baseline, turned and shoveled the ball back to Knapper standing near the sideline. Even with Huntington's J.R. Howard draped all over him, Knapper was able to release a shot that splashed into the net as time ran out.