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Controversial buzzer-beater burns Brown Deer

March 2, 2012

A thrilling, back-and-forth WIAA boys basketball regional battle between Brown Deer and host Milwaukee Washington ended with controversy at the buzzer Friday night as the Purgolders edged the Falcons, 56-54.

With 2 seconds left in a 54-54 game and the Purgolders inbounding from the Falcons’ sideline, Washington senior Deandre Harris caught a pass, dribbled three times and launched a leaner from the free-throw line. The shot was perfect and Washington fans stormed the court in jubilation, but it was questionable whether or not Harris got the shot off before the final horn sounded.

Pandemonium ensued, with Falcons players standing in disbelief in the middle of a victory party, waiting for the officials to wave off the shot. But the officials had already headed for the exits.

“I didn’t think he got it off,” Falcons head coach Kelly Appleby said. “There are two seconds left, he takes three dribbles … I didn’t think there was any way he got it off. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Harris, who finished with a game-high 18 points and drained four 3-pointers, disagreed.

“I got it off,” he said. “I knew as soon as I got it in my hands that it was going to go in. I definitely got it off in time. And we’re going all the way.”

Still, the contest was a much tighter battle than many expected, including Harris, from the seventh-seeded Falcons.

“I wasn’t expecting a close game,” Harris said. “I thought it would be a blowout.”

“I’m incredibly proud of our kids’ performance,” Appleby said. “Our kids put it all on the line. It was incredibly exciting, and it was a great game to be a part of, but you hate to see it end the way it did.”

Washington, leaning on the strength of its speed and athleticism, led by as many as 11 points in the first half as Brown Deer struggled early with jitters, turnovers and a raucous crowd, but the Falcons were resilient. As the game wore on, Brown Deer utilized its size advantage with 6-foot-7 sophomore Devante Jackson and 6-foot-5 senior Jamon Jackson-Wilson, who matched Harris’ game-best 18 points. The Falcons stormed back, tying the game at 30 early in the third quarter.

“The difference between the first half and the second was that we got the ball inside,” Appleby said. “We were tough and started hustling inside, and it made all the difference.”

Both teams traded leads throughout the second half, and even as Washington appeared to be pulling away with a six-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Falcons again clawed back, tying the game at 52 with 3 minutes left.

With 1:04 remaining, Washington held the ball for the final shot. A tussle in the closing seconds forced the ball out of bounds with four seconds left, where Washington inbounded from the baseline. The Falcons deflected an inbounds pass, setting up the final play.

“We worked on a last-second play in practice. That wasn’t it,” Washington head coach Jay Kenseth said of Harris’ game-winner, the result of what appeared to be a broken play and a frantic scramble to get a shot off.

“But I’m super proud of our kids. We’ve been gearing up for tournament play and that’s one of things we’ve talked about. Brown Deer is an excellent team, and I wasn’t surprised one bit. I expected a close game.”

Washington, which finished second in the always-formidable Milwaukee City Conference, picked up its 18th win of the season and advanced to face Nicolet, which shocked defending state champion Whitefish Bay for the second time in as many weeks. Junior Jamaar McKay and senior Gederrick Williams added 18 and 10 points for the Purgolders, respectively.

Brown Deer junior Trayvan Palmer added 15 points and senior Donald Harmon chipped in with 8 for the Falcons, whose season ended at 15-8.

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