LACEY TOWNSHIP - Lacey Township High School point guard Tasheen Carrow grabbed the inbounds pass and raced upcourt Monday night, straight toward the Lions' roaring, stomping cheering section.
As the final seconds of regulation ticked away, the senior took a quick hop at the foul line and floated a shot toward the rim.
If it went in, the South Jersey Group III championship game would be going to overtime. If not, Lacey's dream season would be over.
"Tasheen has come through for us all season," Lacey senior forward Logan McDonald said. "There's nobody else we'd want to take that shot in that situation. Every day, I'd have Tasheen take that shot."
The ball bounced on the back of the rim, seemingly hung in the air and then fell away.
Camden 42, Lacey Township 40.
"I really thought we had a shot to win this," Lacey coach Ryan O'Rourke said. "And we almost did."
When the buzzer sounded, Lacey's players shuffled off the court while their cheerleaders and a capacity crowd gave them a standing ovation.
On the other side of the court, joyous Camden fans tumbled out of the stands and rushed the court while screaming their famous chant: "You want the High? You got the High!"
The Camden fans mobbed sophomore point guard Tarvaris Headen, who had provided the winning points by swishing a pair of foul shots with six seconds left in regulation, just after Lacey reserve guard Kevin Leahy made a pair of foul shots to tie the game at 40-40 with 25 seconds remaining.
As Headen stepped to the line, Lacey's fans screamed so loud the bleachers shook. If it bothered him, however, he didn't show it. Both shots dropped through without even touching the rim.
"I was nervous at first," Headen said. "It was real tough to play here. The crowd was big and loud and we were in a real dogfight the whole game. But my team had faith in me that I would make those shots and I had faith in myself."
The final, frantic seconds ended a back-and-forth game in which Camden and Lacey traded the lead and the momentum.
Lacey (22-5), the top seed in the tournament, used a suffocating, 2-3 zone defense to keep seventh-seeded Camden (18-12) from getting into its normal, fast-paced style. Carrow, who scored a team-high 18 points, made six foul shots in the fourth quarter to help the Lions take a 38-36 lead with 2 minutes, 3 seconds left in regulation.
"We wanted to control the tempo and I thought we did," O'Rourke said. "I thought we were in good shape coming down the stretch there. We just needed to make the right shot at the right time.
"I'm very proud of these kids. Everyone was doubting us all year. I think people were still doubting us coming into this game, talking about how Camden was supposed to blow us out by 20. But we believed in ourselves."
Camden's players and coaches believed in themselves, as well. The Panthers tied the game at 38-38 on Thomas Harper's pair of free throws and then followed a questionable offensive foul on Lacey by taking a 40-38 lead on Ajwan Leaming's slashing drive.
The Panthers advanced to Wednesday's state Group III semifinal against Central Jersey champion Neptune. A year ago, Camden won just eight games.
"We showed a lot of grit out there," Camden coach Cetshwayo Byrd said. "The game wasn't played at our pace, but we still found a way."
The defeat marked the end of an amazing season for the Lions.
Having graduated three starters from last year's team, they were expected to struggle. Instead, they came seconds away from winning the first sectional title in the program's history.
"No one gave us any respect this year," McDonald said. "Everyone called us frauds. But even though we lost tonight, I think we proved to everyone that we're for real."
Contact David Weinberg:
Camden 7 11 11 13-42
Lacey Township 9 8 10 13-40
C-Headen 4 4-4 12, Henson 0 1-2 1, Harper 2 2-2 8, Leaming 3 0-0 6, Maddred 5 2-5 12, Devine 1 0-0 3. Totals-15 9-13 42.
LT-Carrow 5 7-8 21, Reitmeyer 1 0-0 2, Lenskauskas 1 3-4 5, McDonald 2 2-2 8, Smith 1 0-0 2. Totals-10 14-16 40.
3-pointers-C (4), McDonald (2) LT; Harper (2), Devine C.