PICKERING – Tied with 45 seconds remaining, Hornbeck came out of its timeout wanting one shot to take home the win.
The Hornets had multiple players pass up shots, and the ball ended up in a cutting Grady Mitcham's hands as he laid it up at the buzzer to give Hornbeck a 72-70 win Friday night at Pickering High School.
"We came out a little lackadaisical because of the Christmas break," Hornbeck head coach Charlie Alexander said. "Pickering is a good team, and they are better than what their record is.
"Whoever had the open look was going to attack. We wanted to run it down to the end, and Jaren (Mitcham) made a good decision in giving it up."
Pickering falls to 7-11 on the year but put together a complete game in the loss.
"We played well, and if we played a team a little worse than Hornbeck, we win," Pickering head coach Brandon Jordan said. "Hornbeck is a good team. Charlie does a good job with them.
"I told them in the locker room after the game that either you win or you learn. We have to learn some stuff from this game, like when you have a two-point lead with a minute to go, you have to win that game."
Grady Mitcham finished with a team-high 26 points and was one of three Hornets with more than 10 points.
"I have three that are averaging double figures and have two on the bench that could score if they had to," Alexander said. "They are tough. They would be No. 1 options on just about any team."
Pickering guard DeShawn Jackson led his team with a game-high 37 points, including 22 in the second half.
Hornbeck led 58-54 at the end of the third quarter, but the Red Devils opened the final period on a 6-2 run to tie it up at 60.
A pair of free throws by Xavier Evans gave Pickering a 64-60 lead, however back-to-back layups by Grady Mitcham tied it up 64.
Hornbeck and Pickering went back-and-forth, and with a minute left, Jaren Mitcham tied it up at 70 with a layup. The Hornets came up with a steal on the ensuing possession to set up the game winner.
Cooper Smith finished with 19 points, and Jaren Mitcham added 15.
"Cooper loves to play, and I have never seen anyone who wants it more than him," Alexander said. "He wants to do well. If you look at the game, all three did a good job in phases. Grady did good in the first quarter, Cooper stepped up in the second quarter and Jaren did well in the second half. They work well together and are good friends off the court."
Evans finished with 14 points, including a pair of 3s in the first quarter.
"I always call them the 'other guys' because no one ever mentions them," Jordan said. "I see what their contributions are. I have an efficiency rating that I got from an old assistant, and you can see their production in those stats. It measures things besides the big scoring numbers."
The Hornets sit at No. 1 in the Class C Power Rankings after getting out to a 19-7 start.
"I think winning the cross country state championship opened their eyes a little bit," Alexander said. "They want it bad. They've worked hard all year.
"This group has been together a lot longer than the team last year. They never took off, but this group played in Little Dribblers together. We've been waiting for this year for a long time."