Tonka Hemingway has a knack for being a factor in key plays and he found a way to make an impact on offense and defense late in Conway’s 57-55 Class 5A playoff victory over R.B. Stall on Wednesday.
Hemingway, the Region 6-5A player of the year, drew a charge on Stall’s final possession of the game, giving the ball back to Conway (19-4) with 15 seconds left in a tie game.
After a timeout, a wild Tigers pass into the lane was knocked away and a scramble for the ball ensued. It ended up in Hemingway’s hands and he made a move to the basket and dropped in the winning layup.
From there it was pandemonium on the court.
“I just try to make the best play I can when the ball is in my hands,” Hemingway said. “I want to make my teammates better and do what I can to win the game. Tonight, it was down to the wire and our defense had to step up and keep fighting.”
Each team used pressure defense to try and slow down their opponent, leading to a low-scoring first quarter that Conway led 7-5. The game picked up from there, with each team leading the game multiple times in the remaining three quarters. Conway’s largest lead was just five points.
The Tigers expected a tough game from Stall, and saw extra intensity from the Warriors all night.
“They challenged us on every possession and didn’t make things easy on us,” Conway coach Michael Hopkins said. “We knew coming in we wanted to attack inside and we were able to do that with Tonka (Hemingway) and Tim (Steele). Their big man (Seth Rivers) was a guy we knew was critical for their defense, so we attacked inside as much as possible.”
Rivers fouled out with 1:30 remaining in a one-point game, and he was never able to get into a rhythm, having to sit with foul trouble in both halves.
Hemingway never slowed down in the contest, scoring 25 points and bringing relentless effort on the defensive end. Hopkins believed he could dominate the game from the opening tip.
“That’s why he’s the region player of the year,” Hopkins said. “In a game like this, earlier in the year we probably would have fallen apart, but Tonka’s been playing (aggressive) for us and it makes a difference.”
Conway, which won the region on another Hemingway buzzer-beater, advances to face James Island at home in the second round Saturday. For the Tigers, the challenge is not in the opponent, but in fixing the mistakes they made on Wednesday.
“We can’t prepare for an opponent, we just have to be ready to put our best effort on the floor every game,” Hopkins said. “There are a lot of things we can take from this one – we need to hit our free throws, take care of the ball, communicate better on defense. But, we’re happy to be moving on and advancing to play another home game.”