They hit seven of nine free throws in the final 46 seconds – after a flagrant foul resulted in the ejection of a Jacksonville player and Anniston fan – and held the Golden Eagles without a field goal down in the final 2:08.
Marquavious Frazier scored 19 points and Quintavious Dobbins 13 to lead Anniston to a 51-46 victory and berth in this week’s Northeast Regional in Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
The Bulldogs (17-13), which returned just one player who saw significant playing time in 2011-12, will play on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
Anniston played like a veteran team when tensions flared Friday.
Leading just 46-44, the Bulldogs were on the break when Quintavious Dobbins crashed to the floor after a foul by Jacksonville’s Andrew Clingan.
As Dobbins rolled on the floor out of bounds, an Anniston trainer ran to attend to him. After Dobbins got up, a woman in a green shirt came onto the floor and extended her arms to him, apparently trying to nudge Dobbins away from danger.
Police escorted the woman out of the gym, and Clingan was ejected after officials called a flagrant foul. Jacksonville coach Anthony Kingston said Clingan wasn’t trying to hurt Dobbins.
“I didn’t see it, but when we’re down like that, I teach them to go for the ball,” he said. “I thought he went for the ball, and one thing we do is a hard foul. Don’t let him get the ball up.”
Dobbins missed the resulting free throws, but Mauriceco Massey hit two after being held on the inbounds play in the ensuing possession. That began Anniston’s string of hitting seven of nine free throws.
Meanwhile, Anniston’s 3-2 zone continued its work. The Bulldogs held Jacksonville to 14-for-50 shooting (28 percent) and no field goals after Des Curry hit a floater to bring Jacksonville within 42-41 with just more than two minutes to play.
The Golden Eagles, which finished the season 14-14, went 0-for-6 down after that, scoring all of their final five points from the foul line. Curry finished with a team-high 18 points but missed two 3-point attempts in the final 25 seconds, both with Jacksonville having a chance to either take the lead or tie the game.
Thurmond finished with 14 points, hitting three 3-pointers. He hit two in a row to bring Jacksonville within 38-36 and 40-39, but he did most of his damage from the baseline corner, the most vulnerable spot in the 3-2 zone.
Meanwhile, Anniston’s best shot was a missed shot. That meant the Bulldogs got chances for putbacks.
They had 26 offensive rebounds, 13 in each half. Anniston’s success on the offensive glass in the first half prompted Kingston to abandon the 1-2-2 zone for man-to-man, hoping to keep a body on a body.
Anniston outrebounded Jacksonville 46-29 overall and had 14 possessions with at least two shots, including five possessions with three or more shots.
“When we look back on it, we’re going to know second chances were just, it killed us,” Kingston said. “We played good on the first shots, but then, as is Anniston’s motto and Anniston’s team, they’re going to go for those second and third shots.”
Such were the keys to a game that saw nine lead changes and no lead bigger than Anniston’s 38-33 edge early in the fourth quarter. That’s becoming the norm when Anniston and Jacksonville play each other in high-stakes games.
You can reach Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, email@example.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.