The Bluejays escaped with a 58-56 heart-stopping win at the Hearnes Center to advance to the Class 3 state championship game against Hogan Prep at Mizzou Arena tomorrow at 8:40 p.m.
"We didn't have our best game tonight, but we persevered and came out on top," Charleston coach Danny Farmer said. "We play a tough schedule to get us ready for these type of games. We've been lucky here to come out on top quite a few times. I'm just happy that we held on and are moving on to the championship game."
The Bluejays (30-2) won the game with two clutch free throws from senior Krushon Scott with four seconds left in the game.
Scott was fouled after a wild sequence on the other end of the floor in which Mt. Vernon's Skyler Phillips missed a layup, but the Mountaineers' Kaden Jones was whistled for going over the back on an offensive putback attempt.
"I'm glad it was Krushon, a senior who's been in those situations before," Farmer said. "We work on boxing out and I'm glad that over the back foul was called."
The foul put Charleston in a double bonus situation with one second left on the clock, but an official review put four seconds on the clock.
After a timeout, Scott, a 55 percent free throw shooter, calmly sank both free throws.
Charleston junior co-captain Ryan Parham felt confident Scott would make the free throws.
"We told him there wasn't no pressure, first of all," Parham said. "Just go to the free throw line without anything on his mind and knock them down."
Mt. Vernon tried to set up a final shot, but apparently unaware that three more seconds were added to the time, never got a clean look as Phillips heaved a shot from halfcourt that fell way short of the goal. Mt. Vernon's Shane Williams had a chance at an offensive rebound, but his putback was well off the mark as well.
Mt. Vernon coach Skip Brock explained that the officials did inform him that three seconds were added, but only after he had broke the huddle with his team and had the final play set up.
"I really wished I had known I had four seconds and nobody told me they were even looking at it until we came out of the timeout," Brock said. "I'm looking at one second and to me if they're going to review it, it would have been nice for them to say, 'coach, it's going to be a little longer timeout, we're going to decide how much time we have on the clock.' No reflection on anybody, but quite honestly that was difficult because we assumed there was only going to be one second on the clock, so I'll take the hit for that."
Mt. Vernon (24-6) controlled the game from the start, jumping out to a 10-0 lead and holding a 12-6 lead after one quarter.
The Bluejays trailed by as much as nine in the second quarter, but rallied with a flurry just before halftime to cut the Mt. Vernon lead to 23-22.
Charleston shot just 11-of-25 (44 percent) and were 0-for-7 from 3-point range in the first half.
Charleston grabbed its only lead of the night up to that point in the game on a Jamaul Gray layup to start the third quarter, but it was short-lived as Mt. Vernon went on a 7-0 run to reclaim the lead.
The Mountaineers eventually extended the lead to 42-34 by the end of the third quarter.
Charleston appeared to be in serious trouble as they fell behind 45-34 to start the fourth quarter after a Zach Phillips 3-pointer.
However, Parham said he knew his team would keep battling until the final buzzer.
"I thought back to last year, but this is a new year and we knew the game wasn't over until the time ran out, so we kept playing through it," Parham said.
Charleston began its rally with a Greg Tucker 3-pointer and a conventional 3-point play by Scott to quickly cut the lead to 45-40. Gray then scored a layup and Scott had an offensive putback to cut the lead to 45-44.
Jones sliced to the basket for a layup for Mt. Vernon, but Michael Hull answered with a 3-pointer to tie the score at 47-47 with 4:28 left in the game.
The Bluejays' rally was fueled by pressure defense as they scored 12 points off of turnovers in the fourth quarter.
The defense helped offset a poor shooting night by the Bluejays, as they shot just 42 percent from the field and were just 3-of-20 (15 percent) from 3-point range.
"Defense -- that's our forte," Farmer said. "We have a good shooting team, you guys probably don't know that looking at the game, but we shoot the ball well. But our practice every day consists of defense. Our focus is defense. Defense will keep you in ballgames. Tonight was a prime example."
Despite the comeback, Charleston quickly found themselves trailing again as Mt. Vernon went ahead 52-47 with 3:52 left.
Showing no quit, Charleston rallied again.
Charleston eventually tied the game on a Parham layup with 1:03 left. After two free throws by Williams gave Mt. Vernon a 56-54 lead with 30 seconds left, Tucker drove baseline and soared in for a layup to tie the game once again with 14 seconds left, setting up the exciting finish.
"We play to the end," Farmer said. "We were here last year in the third place game against Elsberry and came back from 24 down to win. We never stop believing. We believe every year we're coming here. That's what we start practicing, talking about coming here."
The Bluejays clutched up from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, going 6-for-6, despite going 3-for-11 through the first three quarters.
"Just being a senior, being up here last year, knowing what it takes to win," Tucker said. "All of our guys just had a fire in us that we just wanted to win. We didn't want to be playing tomorrow (in the third place game) again."
Tucker finished with 20 points and five steals. Parham added 12 points and three steals.
The Bluejays out-rebounded Mt. Vernon 29-26, including 17 offensive rebounds.
"Everybody you play up here is great, so you have to play with a certain level of intensity," Farmer said. "We try to play 32 minutes of that type of intensity. They didn't have the depth and I thought at the end we were the fresher team. Our gameplan is to wear teams down."
That strategy appeared to work on Thursday as Mt. Vernon had 20 turnovers in the game, with seven of those coming in the fourth quarter.
Mt. Vernon was led by Williams' 15 points and nine rebounds. Jones added 14 points.
The Mountaineers shot 55 percent from the field, including 66 percent shooting in the second half, but they couldn't overcome the turnovers.
"I thought we got a little bit tired," Brock said. "We don't have a great amount of depth and these guys are playing 32 minutes a night and it's a big floor. We've played teams just as athletic as Charleston, but over the course of 32 minutes with the pressure they apply with their guards, it does wear on you."
Charleston will now get a rematch with Hogan Prep, the team that defeated the Bluejays in overtime in a semifinal game last year.
"It means the world to me, because I didn't want to lose that game," Tucker said. "I'm just so thankful that I've got another chance to play in a Bluejay uniform."
CHARLESTON (58) -- Greg Tucker 20, Ryan Parham 12, Krushon Scott 9, Jamaul Gray 4, Sumner Foster 4, Darrion Carter 4, Michael Hull 3, Aaron Cassell 2. FG 23, FT 9-17, F 17. (3-pointers: Tucker 2, Hull 1. Fouled out: none).
MT. VERNON (56) -- Shane Williams 15, Kaden Jones 14, Zane Phillips 13, Luke Call 5, Chandler Myers 4, Skyler Phillips 3, Alex Hausman 2. FG 21, FT 9-11, F 15. (3-pointers: Jones 2, Z. Phillips 1, S. Phillips 1, Call 1. Fouled out: Myers).