MARIETTA — Davonte Finch scored 14 points and made a critical late defensive play as the Marietta Indians escaped an upset at the hands of the Sulphur Bulldogs in a 43-40 win Saturday in the championship of the Marietta New Year's Classic.
Marietta led for just over 2 minutes of game time in a comeback effort that coach Duane Shaw felt showed a lot about the character of his team.
"I think they're getting more tough-minded and you have to be if you want to be successful," Shaw said. "If they work together and make some improvements, they can be a pretty good team."
The Indians got off to a terrible start, scoring just four points in the first quarter while Sulphur was able to build a lead on some hot shooting and opportunistic steals.
"The first half we didn't play smart at all," Shaw said. "Made a lot of silly fouls, didn't shoot the ball well at all and couldn't make any of our free throws."
The Indians trailed by as much as 15, falling behind 22-7 after an 8-0 Sulphur run that concluded with 3:37 left in the first half.
Marietta went on a quick flurry to narrow the margin down to 25-17 at intermission, then continued to chip away while Sulphur doggedly held a 37-31 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Indians started off the final frame by pounding the ball inside with big man TJ Tatum, who scored six straight points to tie the game at 37 apiece with just over four minutes left.
With 2:30 left, Marietta finally earned its first lead of the night, taking a 41-39 advantage on a Finch bucket.
The senior's biggest contribution came at the biggest moment. Clutching to a 41-40 lead with 8.1 seconds left, Sulphur's Ryan Beauchamp received a pass just in front of the free-throw line and a shot at the go-ahead bucket.
He was denied by Finch, who made the block, grabbed the loose ball and calmly sunk two free throws to mark the 43-40 final.
"We had every opportunity to win the game," Sulphur coach Chase Todd said. "We just needed to make a few more big plays late."
Finch was named tournament MVP, while teammate Tyler Neely was named to the All-Tournament team, along with Sulphur's Haydn Rogers and Colton Stewart.