Austin had a chance to be at the top of area standings when it hosted Florence on Tuesday night. For a while, it looked like that was going to be the result.
The Black Bears held a 15-point halftime lead before the Falcons charged back in the second half to beat Austin 73-70.
Kortez Burge hit a 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds to play to give Florence the lead. The Falcons forced a turnover on the inbounds play to secure the win.
Austin missed 18 free throws, including 12 in the fourth quarter.
“They fought hard and made big shots,” Austin coach Major Deacon said. “We missed free throws. You have to make free throws down the stretch.”
The Black Bears came out of the gate strong and led by six after the first. It used a 15-2 run in the second quarter to lead by 18 — its largest lead of the game. Austin led 47-32 at halftime.
Austin and Florence traded baskets in the third before senior Dee Beckwith hit a 3-pointer to make it 58-49 at the end of the quarter.
After Austin made it 62-49 at the start of the fourth, Florence began its comeback. It trailed 69-62 late before Burge made a 3-pointer then a layup to make it a two-point game.
Junior Tre Shackelford then made a free throw to make it 70-67. Beckwith, who had a game-high 27 points, responded with a layup to make it 70-69. Austin missed two free throws, and Burge took advantage again. He hit a long 3-pointer to give Florence a 72-70 lead. Austin drew up a play to tie or go for the win, but turned it over on the inbounds pass, giving Florence (13-6) the win.
“They helped us by missing some free throws, but we just fought,” Florence coach Anthony Reid said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with is fighting and having heart. I thought our kids did a great job of that tonight.”
Austin (16-8) slips to 2-1 in area play with the loss. James Clemens beat Bob Jones Tuesday night as well. Austin, James Clemens and Florence (13-5) are all 2-1 in the area at the midway point.