By Evan Grice
In front of the biggest crowd at Collett Fieldhouse this season, the No. 3 Piedmont Wildcats gave their fans something special to remember Friday night.
Against the No. 4 Carl Albert Titans, the Wildcats fought back from a 49-43 third deficit, to claim a dramatic 73-71 victory in overtime.
Following the contest, the Piedmont student section stormed the court in celebration with the Wildcat players and coaching staff as the Wildcats clinched at least a share of the Suburban Conference title, and in the process ensured the Wildcats finished the regular season with a perfect home record.
Fueling the Wildcat offense on senior night was ironically a senior, in Kendell Franklin, who registered a career-high 24 points against the Titans.
“Coach Wagner told us to come out and play with heart,” Franklin said. “I sacrificed my body tonight because I wanted this win so bad. It makes me so happy to know that I can do something like this, and I could possibly do it every night. We knew we had to go out and outplay Carl Albert in the second half, and let Coach Wagner handle everything else.”
“Conference champions are just a check mark for us,” Franklin said. “It’s just the first step in a bigger goal for this team this season.”
Franklin sent the game into overtime with a layup in the fourth quarter with 10.2 seconds left, tying the game at 66-66.
Piedmont then took its first lead of the game since the second quarter in the overtime period with 3:30 remaining when Cameron Peters hit a pair of free throws to make it 68-66, which grew to 70-66 with 2:59 remaining.
Carl Albert though fought back and eventually took the lead at 71-70 with a minute to go in the contest.
With 37 seconds left though, Piedmont took the lead, and dodged several near misses by the Titans in the lane as time expired to claim the victory and set off wild celebrations inside Collett Fieldhouse.
“We were asking ourselves if we had the intestinal fortitude to pull out something like this, because we had been so inconsistent,” Piedmont coach Ryan Wagner said. “I told the kids after the game I didn’t think we played our best game. Carl Albert played exceptionally well to be honest. Adrion (Williams) held everything together and a lot of guys stepped up tonight. This is a special moment for this team.”
Cameron Warren from Carl Albert made life difficult all night for the Wildcats as he finished with 31 points on the night to lead all scorers on the night.
Piedmont held a slim 20-18 lead at the end of the first quarter, before finding itself in a deficit at halftime. Carl Albert then held a 49-43 lead at the end of the third quarter.
“That’s part of being successful is dealing with pressure,” Wagner said. “I just want everyone to know that this is the first time in my 10 years here, we have gone undefeated at home. I feel like this has a lot to do with our students and the support they bring us. Opposing coaches always tell me how this is such a tough place to play. We’d also never beaten Carl Albert, so we showed a lot of toughness and character this evening.”
Cameron Peters finished with 21 points for the Wildcats, with Grant Smith scoring 13 points. Adrion Williams added 12 points in the contest, with Darrius Burris scoring four points.
Wes Smith added 19 points for the Titans in the defeat.