ABINGDON, Va. — Konnor Kilgore’s job for the Abingdon Falcons is to knock down shots, and never before had he drained a bucket more important than the one he made in crunch time last Tuesday night.
Kilgore connected on a go-ahead 3-pointer from the corner with 6.4 seconds remaining as Abingdon took a thrilling 56-55 triumph over Tunstall in the quarterfinals of the VHSL Region 3D boys basketball tournament.
Abingdon’s season featured plenty of ups and downs, but the Falcons were certainly on the upswing Tuesday night thanks to Kilgore coming through in the clutch.
“We’ve faced a few challenges this season, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Kilgore said. “It’s made us who we are as a team. We’ve had some close games, and we just know how to win ’em. We’ve just had to pull together as a group, and we trust each other.”
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Tuesday’s game featured a roller-coaster of emotions as well, and it appeared Abingdon might have sealed the deal after Luke Honaker and Kilgore converted back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Falcons up 52-43 with 3:49 remaining.
However, Tunstall (18-6) ratcheted up the defensive pressure and ripped off a 12-0 run to grab a 55-52 advantage with 30.1 seconds left.
After Honaker made a free throw with 23.9 seconds remaining and Tunstall’s Jamarcus Brown missed the front end of a one-and-one a second later, the stage was set for Kilgore, a 6-foot-5 senior, to deliver.
Taylor Smiley threw a crosscourt pass to Kilgore who showed no hesitation as he let the 3-pointer fly as Tunstall’s Brycen Poole came toward him with his hand up.
“It’s a play we call empty,” Kilgore said. “We get a drive and set a triple-screen for Haynes [Carter], and then I just flare out to the corner. My teammate found me, and I just had to hit the shot. I couldn’t think about anything else.”
It was Kilgore’s third 3-pointer of the night.
“Konnor did what Konnor can do, which is hit a standstill 3, and he hit it in the biggest moment,” said AHS coach Aaron Williams. “He’s spent more time than anybody in our program on working on that shot, and he got to have a moment today. I also give credit to Taylor for having the vision and hitting the open guy.”
Tunstall had one last shot to win, but a layup by D’dric Rogers rolled off the rim as time expired.
Dayton Osborne led Abingdon with 16 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists, while Luke Honaker and Haynes Carter added a dozen points apiece for Abingdon.
Carter also had 11 rebounds and two assists with Honaker hitting three crucial 3-pointers of his own in what was the ninth-grader’s first regional tournament game.
“At this point in the year, he’s no longer a freshman, he’s a varsity player,” Williams said. “Luke Honaker was big, and we needed every bit of it.”
The valleys for Abingdon this season have included a season-ending injury to 7-foot junior center Evan Ramsey, an 0-3 showing at the Arby’s Classic and a third-place finish in the Mountain 7 District tournament.
“We’ve had a lot of people give up on us from within and from without, and the ones from within hurt the most, but I am proud of this bunch for persevering and getting a region win tonight,” Williams said. “Actually, it’s drawn them closer together, and they’ve played more like a team. This team played its best ball from late January through early February, and then we took a step back we felt like last week. But I think we got woke up, and we came to play today.”
A peak was reached on Tuesday thanks to Kilgore delivering the biggest shot of his career.
“I know I had some bonehead mistakes and threw the ball away a few times,” Kilgore said. “I had to make up for it somehow.”
Abingdon’s momentum was short-lived, however, after Cave Spring delivered a knockout 40-point win against them in Thursday’s Region 3D state semifinal, 71-31, springing the Knights to the state tournament.
“This was a big game for us, especially since none of us had ever played in a region game before,” said Abingdon’s Dayton Osborne, who joined Haynes Carter with a team-high seven points. “We came out ready to play, but we played really slow. We played with a little more pride in the second half.
“We wanted to come out here and play the best that we could. It just wasn’t enough.”
The Falcons (17-9) managed to get just seven shot attempts in the entire quarter, and two of those were blocked. The Knights’ half-court trapping defense also forced seven Abingdon turnovers during the period. And on offense, Cave Spring had a run of seven straight possessions that resulted in baskets.
“[Cave Spring] is a good basketball team, and experienced,” Abingdon coach Aaron Williams said. “They have a lot of confidence, came out the aggressor and took it to us.
“Our main goal was to try to cut down our live-ball turnovers, and they capitalized on several of those; that got them off to a good start.”
While this year’s Falcons team had several players with limited varsity experience, everyone was familiar with the recent history between the two schools, and the added incentive Cave Spring had coming in.
Last season, Abingdon beat the Knights at the same point in the region tournament, earning the Falcons a state bid and ending Cave Spring’s season.
“This was our revenge game,” Saunders said. “We came and played that way. Our defensive intensity was 100 times better tonight than it was on Tuesday. We got out to that 30-4 lead, and just kept rolling after that.”
Additional reporting by Stephen Hemphill of The Roanoke Times.