FLORENCE — Mars Hill and Deshler matched each other shot for shot for 40 minutes in Monday night's boys' semifinal game of the TimesDaily Classic.
It was a couple of 3-pointers in the second overtime that proved to be the difference as the Panthers escaped with a thrilling 78-73 victory over the Tigers.
Mars Hill (6-1) advances to play Florence in today's championship game at 7:30 p.m. at Flowers Hall.
Thomas Swinea and Landon Willis hit back-to-back treys in the second overtime to give Mars Hill the lead for good. The Panthers then made 8 of 10 free throws in the final minute to claim the victory.
"It was just a great game and a fun game to play," Mars Hill coach Mike Mitchell said. "Deshler hit big shots and we hit big shots. Fortunately, we were finally able to get a couple of stops late and get the win."
Deshler (2-3) appeared on its way to advancing in regulation when Thomas Gamble converted a three-point play with 34 seconds left. After Mars Hill missed a 3-pointer, Deshler had a chance to put it away but missed two free throws with 18 seconds remaining.
Mars Hill got the rebound and got the ball to Landon Willis in the corner. Willis faked a shot, then stepped back behind the arc and buried a 3-pointer with 5.6 seconds remaining to tie it at 58. Brandon Creasy's bid to win it for Deshler from the corner bounced off the rim, sending it to overtime.
"Joe (Wilson) trusted me enough to pass up a 3 and get me the ball," Willis said. "I expected to make the shot and luckily I did."
The Panthers held a 64-62 lead in overtime when Gamble scored on a drive to tie it at 64 with 12.5 seconds left. Mars Hill was unable to convert in the final seconds and the two teams headed to a second overtime.
The treys in the second overtime gave the Panthers a cushion Deshler couldn't overcome. Wilson hit 6 of 6 free throws in the final minute to help Mars Hill put it away.
"We had some chances early to take control, but either we didn't do it or Deshler wouldn't let us," Mitchell said. "But we have a veteran group with six seniors. They showed a lot of character and will power tonight."
Wilson led Mars Hill with 24 points, followed by Willis with 17, Harrison Chastain with 12, Swinea with 11 and Drew Black with 10. Gamble paced Deshler with 22 points. Chandler Brown added 15 and Richardo Carter 11 for the Tigers.
Mars Hill played Florence in its opening game of the season and lost by four to the Falcons.
"Florence does a lot of things well and it will be tough to match up with them physically," Mitchell said. "But if we can get re-energized and play well we might be able to make a game of it."
Florence 53, Brooks 40: Two-time defending Classic champion Florence used its press defense to stake an early double digit lead, then overcame its own turnover woes and some late foul trouble to hold off Brooks in a semifinal win.
Florence's press helped force Brooks into nine first-quarter turnovers while the Falcons jumped out to a 14-4 lead.
The Lions came as close as four in the first minute of the second quarter but Florence pulled back out to a 29-17 halftime behind a strong performance by Chaunce Watkins.
The senior scored 12 of his game-high 24 points in the first half.
"We got a lot of points from our press," Watkins said. "We work on that all the time in practice. And even though we turned it over late and got into some foul trouble, I knew our bench players could pull it out."
Florence struggled against Brooks' press in the second half, turning it over 18 times, including 11 in the fourth quarter.
That allowed the Lions to pull back within 44-35 on Chris Crews steal and fast-break layup with 6:10 to play.
"I think our guys got tired," first-year Florence coach Stevie Martin said. "It wasn't so much their press as our decision making. We were trying to force it too many times.
"We were playing without Rashawn Smith, who is at the Alabama-Mississippi all-star (football) game. We had to figure out how to do it without him. Timing and patience matter a lot."
Despite playing without three starters down the stretch, Florence pushed its lead back put to double digits the rest of the way.
Watkins took Smith's place inside but fouled out with 2:38 to play, after starting point guard Dee Smith fouled out in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
Jack Singletary led Brooks with 11 points. Isaac Dillard added 10 for Florence.
"We've won it twice, but we want to win it three times," Watkins said. "Nobody has ever won three straight, so we want to break that record for the school."