Mr. Clutch: Hunter’s heroics lift Lions past Seneca
By Eric Sprott
SENECA — The unquestioned senior leader of the Daniel High School boys’ basketball team, Griffin Hunter has continually made big plays for the Lions over the course of the young season.
But on Friday night at Seneca, he may have outdone himself in a performance that won’t soon be forgotten.
Helping to lead a ferocious comeback in the game’s waning moments, Hunter scored Daniel’s final eight points over the last 1:41 of action, including a pair of free throws with just 7.8 seconds left to play to secure a dramatic 53-52 victory.
“All I’ve got to say is big-time players make big-time plays,” Hunter said. “That’s it.”
Hunter certainly showed he can back that big talk, and his head coach has his back on that, too.
“He’s making all the right plays, all the smart plays and all the big plays,” Daniel head coach Ben Touchberry said. “He’s used to these moments, and I told him he’s a big-time player right now for us.”
After Hunter hit both of his attempts on a one-and-one trip to the charity stripe, Seneca had a chance to win the game. Malachi Hunter got a clean look at the basket, but his last-second layup attempt rolled off the rim as time ran out in the Lions’ second come-from-behind victory over the Bobcats in the last week.
Last Friday, Daniel erased a 15-point second-half deficit in Central for a 56-49 win. On their home floor Friday night, the Bobcats led 50-43 with 3:20 to play, but Daniel closed on a 10-2 run, including Hunter’s eight-point run to end the night.
“It’s tough, and it’s a heartbreaker,” Seneca head coach Kevin Padgett said. “We put ourselves in position, we fought back and got the lead. We had it, and we just have to execute down the stretch. We’re failing to do that.”
Seneca — which saw starter Joseph Goss leave the game with an ankle injury in the second quarter — got a game-high 24 points from Levi Leard, but the Bobcats were not only outdone by Hunter down the stretch, but by their own woes at the free-throw line.
In the fourth quarter, Seneca missed six of its last seven attempts from the line, including a pair with 12.9 seconds left while clinging to a 52-51 lead before Hunter was able to create contact and get to the line to deliver what proved to be the game-winning points.
“Coach just said, ‘Drive the ball,’ and I just got an open lane and drove it,” Hunter said. “That’s all that happened.”
Daniel had led by as much as eight at 24-16 in the second quarter after a steal and score from Hunter, who finished with a team-high 19 points. The Lions led just 28-27 at halftime, and after a lengthy back-and-forth affair, Seneca went ahead 44-43 with a three-point play from Charles Cousins with 6:40 to play.
The Bobcats held that lead up until Hunter’s fateful trip to the line.
“To beat Seneca twice is always good,” Touchberry said. “To come into this environment and have a big-time game, hopefully this can propel us to get better.”
“They’re down, and they’re upset,” Padgett added of his Bobcats. “Precious metal goes through a hot fire, and this is a hot fire. Hopefully we can get through that and come out better on the other side because of it.”
Daniel 53, Seneca 52
DWD 15 13 9 16 — 53
SHS 13 14 12 13 — 52
Daniel (53) — Hunter 19, Simmons 12, Taylor 9, Bradley 3, Cote 2, Kirksey 2, Latiff 2, McAtee 2, Smith 2
Seneca (52) — Leard 24, Evett 9, Goss 5, Wilbur 5, Rogers 4, Cousins 3, Goodine 1, Hunter 1
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