MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WRCB) -- Howard thought it had Jackson South Side on the ropes in the second half of Friday's Class AA semifinal.
Turns out it was the Hustlin' Tigers who suffered the knockout blow.
The Hawks closed the third quarter on a 15-4 run to take the lead and pulled away in the fourth for a 67-53 win over Howard at the Murphy Center to clinch a spot in Saturday's state championship game.
The Hustlin' Tigers end the season at 28-6 overall, one win shy of their third state final appearance. They were trying to become the first Hamilton County school to advance to the AA championship since 1982.
Senior standout Brandon Walters finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks in his final prep game. Xavier Harris led the Hustlin' Tigers with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Chris Walton also finished in double figures with 10 points.
Howard led 24-21 at halftime, and a Walters putback with 4:39 to play in the third capped a 10-4 run that gave the Hustlin' Tigers a 34-27 lead. Jackson South Side rallied quickly, reeling off 11 of the game's next 12 points to take the lead and eventually taking a 41-37 lead into the final period.
Howard, which was making its fourth straight state tournament appearance, remained within striking distance, getting a Harris basket to pull within 47-44 with 4:19 to play.
But with Jackson South Side up 49-44 just 30 seconds later, Howard's Antonio Smith fouled Jaylen Barford on an alley-oop attempt. The two exchanged words, and Smith was whistled for a technical, giving the Hawks four free throw attempts and the ball.
Barford made three of four attempts, then A.J. Merriweather added a layup on the ensuing possession to complete a five-point swing that gave the Hawks a 54-44 lead.
Howard mustered only one free throw over the next three minutes, allowing Jackson South Side to put the finishing touches on a 17-1 run that stretched the lead to as many as 19 to put the game away.
Jackson South Side shot 64.3-percent (18-of-28) from the field in the second half. The Hawks now advance to face CPA in the Class AA state championship at 7 p.m. ET Saturday night.