By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Guard R.J. Leverette made only one of his first 10 shots this season.
However, with the score tied at 75, Leverette knocked down a 3-point goal with 27 seconds remaining, and the Lions edged Avila 78-75 Friday afternoon in the Freeman Sports Medicine/Chris Tucker Memorial Classic at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
After scoring the game’s first basket, the Lions (2-0) trailed most of the first 30 minutes by double digits, including 43-30 at halftime. Jordan Talbert scored six straight points — a dunk off a pass from Leverette and four free throws — and Marquis Addison’s two free throws and Greg Renfroe’s short jumper at the left baseline capped a 10-0 run that gave the Lions a 69-64 lead with 6:53 remaining.
Avila guard Lance Miller tied the game with a short jumper and a trey, but two Matt Everson free throws, a jumper off the glass by Stephen Atkinson and two Talbert charities gave the Lions a 75-70 lead with 2:38 to play. The Lions, however, made three straight turnovers down the stretch, and the Eagles tied the game on Brandon Redmond’s layup with 42 seconds left.
Leverette, after bringing the ball upcourt, moved toward the left corner. He took a pass from Everson, and his shot hit nothing but net.
“I saw Matt driving baseline, and I knew that I was going to be open in the corner,” said Leverette, who finished with six points, seven assists and seven rebounds “Of course, I’ve been struggling from the field early in the season, but talking to the coaches and players on the team, they lift me up and kept my confidence going. I knew that I was going to have to take a shot, but I give full credit to the coaches for keeping faith in me, and I give a lot of credit to the players. Matt gave the ball to a guy that’s shooting 10 percent from the field. Thank God.”
“He’s a key player to us, and he’s a much better shooter than what his percentage says,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “He’s so valuable to us ... he had two or three really nice feeds. He didn’t hesitate on the shot, and that’s what you want to see — a guy who has confidence that he’s going to make it and not hesitate on the shot and knock it down.”
Avila (2-2) never got a good look at the basket in the waning seconds, and Everson’s third steal with two seconds left clinched the victory.
Addison led the Lions with 22 points. Talbert sank 11-of-13 free throws while scoring 17, and Renfroe added 10.
Guards Sedrick Johnson and Miller fired in 21 and 19, respectively, for Avila, and Redmond had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
The Eagles led 43-30 at halftime after outshooting the Lions from every spot on the court — 59 percent from the field overall, 67 percent from 3-point range and 83 percent at the foul line compared to the Lions’ 36 percent, 38 percent from 3 and 64 percent from the line.
“Their guards were real quick,” Leverette said. “Credit to Coach (Rodney) Perry, I played for him when I was younger on an AAU team, and he gets his guys to play hard. We came out a little lackadaisical, and his players took full advantage of that.”
In the postgame handshake, “(Coach Perry) just kind of smirked at me and told me good shot,” Leverette said. “It’s good to see people from back home and play against them.”
“We knew how hard Avila would play and how they could really get out and pressure us,” Corn said. “They forced us way out on the floor. We were starting our offense 28, 30 feet from the basket. We have to do a better job of No. 1, taking care of the basketball and being strong with it, and then be able to drive people down and get in a better scoring area.
“Hats off to those Avila kids. They played extremely hard and with really good toughness. They came in here determined they were going to win the game, and they almost did.”