They hit seven of nine free throws in the final 46 seconds — after a flagrant foul resulted in the ejection of a Jacksonville player and Anniston fan — and held the Golden Eagles without a field goal in the final 2:08.
Marquavious Frazier scored 19 points and Quintavious Dobbins 13 to lead Anniston to a 51-46 victory and berth in next week’s Northeast Regional in Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
The Bulldogs (17-13), who returned just one player who saw significant playing time in 2011-12, will play Madison County on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.
“With the number of young kids I have, to advance to the regional is kind of unheard of,” Anniston coach Schuessler Ware said. “Usually, the teams that advance are the veteran ball teams.”
Anniston played like a veteran team when tensions flared Friday.
Leading just 46-44, the Bulldogs were on the break when Quintavious Dobbins crashed to the floor after a foul by Jacksonville’s Andrew Clingan.
As Dobbins rolled on the floor out of bounds, an Anniston trainer ran to attend to him. After Dobbins got up, a woman in a green shirt came onto the floor and extended her arms to him, apparently trying to nudge Dobbins away from danger.
Police escorted the woman out of the gym, and Clingan was ejected after officials called a flagrant foul. Jacksonville coach Anthony Kingston said Clingan wasn’t trying to hurt Dobbins.
“I didn’t see it, but when we’re down like that, I teach them to go for the ball,” he said. “I thought he went for the ball, and one thing we do is a hard foul. Don’t let him get the ball up.
“Andrew may have caught him around the arm. I’ll have to watch the tape and see.”
Dobbins missed the resulting free throws, but Mauriceco Massey hit two after being held on the inbounds play in the ensuing possession. That began Anniston’s string of hitting seven of nine free throws.
“I got my teammates together and told them to stay calm,” Frazier said. “Just play through, and we’ve got it. We’ve just got to stay together.”
Meanwhile, Anniston’s 3-2 zone continued its work. The Bulldogs held Jacksonville to 14-for-50 shooting (28 percent) and no field goals after Des Curry hit a floater to bring Jacksonville within 42-41 with just more than two minutes to play.
The Golden Eagles, who finished the season 14-14, went 0-for-6 down after that, scoring all of their final five points from the foul line. Curry finished with a team-high 18 points but missed two 3-point attempts in the final 25 seconds, both with Jacksonville having a chance to either take the lead or tie the game.
“We were trying to get some shots taking it to the basket,” Curry said. “They have a lot of length on their team, so that zone kind of had us a little stagnant.”
Ware said the 3-2 zone was designed to make it hard for Jacksonville to score in the lane while denying Curry and Sid Thurmond 3-point shots they normally like to take.
Thurmond finished with 14 points, hitting three 3-pointers. He hit two in a row to bring Jacksonville within 38-36 and 40-39, but he did most of his damage from the baseline corner, the most vulnerable spot in the 3-2 zone.
“We were just trying to keep the ball out of the middle and get it out of Curry’s hands so he wouldn’t get those little shots,” Frazier said.
Meanwhile, Anniston’s best shot was a missed shot. That meant the Bulldogs got chances for putbacks.
They had 26 offensive rebounds, 13 in each half. Anniston’s success on the offensive glass in the first half prompted Kingston to abandon the 1-2-2 zone for man-to-man, hoping to keep a body on a body.
Anniston outrebounded Jacksonville 46-29 overall and had 14 possessions with at least two shots, including five possessions with three or more shots.
“When we look back on it, we’re going to know second chances were just, it killed us,” Kingston said. “We played good on the first shots, but then, as is Anniston’s motto and Anniston’s team, they’re going to go for those second and third shots.”
Such were the keys to a game that saw nine lead changes and no lead bigger than Anniston’s 38-33 edge early in the fourth quarter. That’s becoming the norm when Anniston and Jacksonville play each other in high-stakes games.
“It’s pretty intense,” Curry said. “When I was in eighth grade, the varsity lost by like 40, then the next year we came back and lost by two in the regional championship.
“The next year, we played them tight and just couldn’t get it, and the next year it went to four overtimes, and now this.”
Frazier said Jacksonville has become Anniston’s new rival in basketball.
“We don’t play Oxford any more, and Jacksonville is the closest to us,” he said. “That game is always intense.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.