By Kim West
No. 1 Tanner used clutch free throw shooting and a late fourth-quarter comeback to defeat Luverne 51-50 Thursday afternoon in the state semifinals at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
Justin “Bubba” Smith, who had a team-leading 12 points and nine rebounds, sank the winning free throw to cap a frenetic sequence in the game’s closing seconds.
After Luverne’s Donta’ Hall blocked a Greg Maclin layup, Tanner corralled the offensive rebound and Smith was fouled. Smith missed the front-end of two free throws but converted the second to finish 4 of 6 from the line.
Luverne had two seconds remaining in the final possession but Jace Haggermaker stole the ball from Uriah Brown to end the game.
Desmond Love shot 4 of 9 from the field to finish with 10 points, and Greg Maclin had 11 points and was 4 of 5 from the charity stripe. Haggermaker added six points and seven rebounds.
DeAnthony Rutledge led Luverne with 12 points. Preston Sankey, Jamarcus June and Hall each had 10 points.
Tanner shot 76.5 percent from the free throw line, while Luverne was only 3-of-15. Luverne had a 20-11 turnover advantage, and scored 22 second-chance points.
The Rattlers jumped out to a an eight-point lead early in the first quarter, and Luverne led by nine points late in the second period thanks to a 23-11 scoring advantage in a game with several lead changes and ties.
Tanner (28-4) will play at 11 a.m. Friday in the 2A state championship game at the BJCC. The Rattlers, who are attempting to win their second title in three seasons, will face the winner of the other semifinal between No. 7 Elba and unranked Lafayette.