MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WRCB) -- Walter McGary's message to his team was clear before it boarded the bus to Murfreesboro Wednesday:
I want to stay for more than one day.
Lucky he has a senior-laden team who has learned to listen.
Brandon Walters had 19 points and 14 rebounds, and Howard used a big final quarter to pull away from East Nashville for a 59-43 win over East Nashville in the Class AA state quarterfinals at the Murphy Center.
The Hustling' Tigers advance to the state semifinals for the second time in the last three years, where they'll face Jackson South side at 7:45 p.m. ET.
Turns out, McGary had a feeling his message would be well-received.
"I actually unpacked last night," the veteran coach said. "We've been tested the last few weeks in our district, then in the region tournament. We believe. We're a family, and we believe."
Howard opened a double-digit lead in the first half and led 28-19 at the break, but East Nashville opened the third quarter on a 13-4 run to pull even at 33-all.
The Hustling' Tigers fought back for a 42-37 lead at the end of the period, then outscored the Eagles 17-6 in the final quarter to seal the win.
Undoes Young added 16 points for Howard, which owned a huge 49-26 rebounding edge.
Walters came to Murfreesboro motivated after a disappointing seven-point showing in last year's quarterfinal loss. The Hustling' Tigers 6-foot-8 senior center didn't disappoint this time around, finishing 8-of-12 from the field while adding five offensive rebounds and two blocks.
"He wanted this game," McGary said of Walters, praising his big man for a variety of hustle plays. "He's one of our leaders, and when he's (diving for balls) it got our kids back in the flow when East Nashville started coming at us.
"They see what he does. The rebounding, playing defense. Those things pulled us through."
Howard also shot well at the free throw line, making 17-of-23 attempts, and used a strong defensive effort to hold East Nashville to just 28.6-percent shooting from the field (16-of-57) and 20-percent (3-of-15) from 3-point range.
Howard, which is making its fourth straight state tournament appearance and fifth in the last six years, improves to 28-5 with the victory. The Hustling' Tigers are still chasing the program's first state championship.
"That's a monkey off our back, but we don't feel like we're anywhere near playing our better game. Our better game is still out there," McGary said. "Hopefully our best game will be in the third of the three we have to play.
"We know tomorrow will be another tough test, but I believe my guys are up to the test."
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