Everyone remembers this one.
Whether you were in attendance — like the artist formerly known as Rob Ketcham — or listening to it on the radio — like I was, hoping against hope we'd make deadline — or reading about the game in the following day's newspaper or online, everyone remembers this one.
And, honestly, how could you forget?
But in case those memories are a little hazy at this point, let's revisit the scene.
It's the 2016 Cullman County Basketball Tournament.
More specifically, it's the wild semifinal tilt between Hanceville's and West Point's varsity boys.
You know the one I'm talking about, right?
The four-overtime instant classic inside Tom Drake Coliseum decided on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Brendan Flanigan. Yeah, that one.
The unexpected heroics propelled the Bulldogs to an 84-83 triumph against the Warriors and, soon after, the program's first county crown since 1998.
"I was just saying, 'Don't pass it to me,'" Flanigan told The Times following his unbelievable moment. "That was a dream. Like really, I thought it was a dream."
More than four years has passed since Flanigan's shot, but everyone remembers.
I interviewed several key people who were a part of this memorable matchup, and they offered their thoughts and recollections about that fateful January night in 2016.
The teams had split their regular season matchups leading up to this game: Hanceville won the first meeting 68-57, while West Point won the second game 57-45. This particular clash was a back-and-forth contest and headed into the initial overtime tied at 54-apiece after the Bulldogs missed the front end of a one-and-one late in regulation that could have ended it.
Daniel Wakefield (Hanceville coach): "Our focus was on stopping (Tanner) Rusk. I always thought the offense would come, and we'd need to feed off our defense. I remember going to the gym on the day of the game and going over their offense before we played them that night."
Randy Jones (West Point coach): “Our goal was to slow Xavier (Malcom) down and keep people from getting easy baskets. I had Kobe Smith that year, and he was the best defensive player I’ve coached. Kobe did a good job, but you’re not going to stop Xavier. And if you focus on one guy too much, you can give up easy baskets to other guys during the game.”
Tanner Rusk (West Point senior): "I remember feeling like it was the most people I had played in front of in my life. Pretty much everyone stayed around to watch."
Stephen Chandler (Hanceville assistant; now Hanceville coach): “It was super competitive in the county that year. It was a crazy year. I thought a lot of teams were even. And we thought, as a team, we had a shot to get to the title game.”
Hanceville led by four points with 29 seconds left in the first extra period before West Point tied it up with a pair of free throws from Rusk and a bucket from Seth Parker. Rusk came up big again in the second overtime, sinking a pair of free throws with 1.9 seconds left to keep the game going.
Rusk: "Coach Jones always talked about free throws. We'd shoot them after we ran in practice. He and coach (Scott) Brown would say, 'Down two, end of the fourth quarter, have to make them.' They wanted us to shoot them when you couldn't feel your legs. And that definitely came in handy there."
Wakefield: "Once you get into that second overtime, you begin to wonder who's left on your bench. Once you get into those third and fourth overtimes, you've got a point guard playing power forward. I can remember not running any set plays because nobody knew what to do. The guys were all playing out of position. We just ran motion offense and looked for Xavier (Malcom) and Isaac (Weissend)."
Xavier Malcom (Hanceville senior): "My mindset was trying to figure out a way to win. And just not giving up. I didn't come out of the game, so I was tired. They kept making plays, and they weren't just going to give up, so we were going to have to play harder than them to win. A lot of people for us didn't play until this game. But with everybody fouling out, that's what we had. We had to move and cut like you do in rec ball. Isaac and I tried to lead and make sure everyone was going in the same direction."
The teams — no doubt exhausted by this point — scored just two points apiece in the third overtime, setting up the decisive final four minutes of the contest. The Warriors took an early lead before Weissend put the Bulldogs in front 81-79 following a crucial 3-pointer. But Rusk answered in a clutch way, converting a three-point play with 9.8 seconds remaining to gift West Point an 82-81 advantage. The Warriors added a free throw shortly afterward to push their lead to two points.
Jones: “I don’t know how many times I told coach Brown ‘We’ve got it,’ and ‘We’re in trouble.’ I’ve never coached in a game where it was so up and down in our favor and in their favor. That tells you what type of kids both teams had. Nobody wanted to lose that game, and each team had kids make plays throughout.”
Brendan Flanigan (Hanceville sophomore): "It was really intense and nerve-wracking the whole game. I remember when I checked in; I was shaking. It was my first time checking into a close game."
Preston Boyd (West Point assistant; now Vinemont coach): “As an assistant, you take in things differently sitting on the bench. It was such an exciting atmosphere there and just a great high school basketball game. And you don’t get to play those too often in a place like Tom Drake. A lot of people showed up for that one.”
The final play will forever be etched into the memories of those who lived it. Flanigan, who was only playing because four Hanceville players had fouled out, received a pass from Malcom at the top of the key. The unguarded sophomore let it fly and ... well ... you know what happened. There's still been no greater five-point performance in school history. Flanigan was swarmed by his teammates inside a raucous – if you were a Hanceville fan – and stunned – if you were a West Point fan – arena.
Flanigan: "We all expected X to shoot. But I knew when he dribbled and got double-teamed, he was going to have to pass it to someone. And I knew I was going to have to catch and release. I definitely was scared, because I didn't want to miss. But now, I'm so glad he passed it to me. Making that shot gave me so much confidence moving forward. It helped the team win, too. I turned around, and Isaac and RJ (Evans) tackled me. I couldn't catch my breath, because everyone was on top of me. It really felt like an NBA Finals game."
Isaac Weissend (Hanceville senior): “The first instinct was to congratulate him and the whole team. It was a crazy feeling. But right off the bat, we wanted to dogpile him after that shot.”
Wakefield: "Xavier had the ball with about seven or eight seconds left going up the floor. I just kind of figured that would be better than anything I could draw up in a timeout. I figured he'd get to the basket or drive and kick it. And that's what he did. And Brendan drained the shot. I remember him being wide open, too."
Malcom: "I remember getting by one defender, and two or three came at me. I saw Brendan, and he's my cousin, and I knew he was going to hit it. He didn't play much, but he was ready."
Chandler: “It speaks to Brendan that when it hit his hands, he didn’t think twice about it. It was a clean look, and we felt good about it in the air. Brendan was a team-first guy. He didn’t complain. When he finally got his opportunity, he made a huge play.”
Wakefield: "If you're being honest, you'd rather Xavier shoot the ball there probably. We knew that Brendan could shoot, but he wasn't playing a lot because of who was in front of him. But he just made a big shot. It may not have been the most important game, but as far as a great game — it was one of those you can say with 100 percent certainty no one deserved to lose. It was the biggest relief win I've ever had. The feeling I had was, 'Thank God it's over. Thank God we won.' It was physically and mentally exhausting for the coaches and the players."
Rusk: "I remember turning my head and seeing his shot go in. I didn't know who he was at the time. Your heart just sank. You could tell it was going in, and it did. At the time, I don't think we were really expecting them to call a timeout. All of us were just dead set that X was going to take the last shot. He was a great player, and it was his team. So for him to be able to give that up, it was unselfish. At the time, you were OK leaving it up to someone else. Props to Brendan; it was a clutch shot."
Jones: “On that last possession, we wanted to get it out of Xavier’s hands. But then he hit Flanigan with that pass. I just told coach Wakefield, ‘Unbelievable game.’”
Malcom finished with 39 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and four steals for the Purple and Gold. Jose Orozco was next in line with 11 points. Rusk, meanwhile, had 23 points and 10 rebounds, while Parker and Cameron Moore racked up 19 and 18 points, respectively, for the Maroon and White. The Bulldogs went on to defeat Cold Springs 55-49 for the championship a few days later — the title game was pushed back due to inclement weather. They even had to play an area outing against Holly Pond in between those county tournament tilts. Talk about resiliency. And talk about one heck of a road to glory.
Wakefield: "I had forgotten all about that Holly Pond game until now. But we had a game plan ready for Cold Springs. We didn't change a lot from our two other games. I remember we didn't do a whole lot the day before the championship. And right before the game, I remember being as relaxed as I've been as a coach. I'm not sure anybody not in purple thought we'd win that rubber game, considering how much we had played and them having (Triston) Chambers. We were just a little better that night."
Malcom: "For some reason, I wasn't really tired. It was the championship game. Everybody stepped up and was ready for the moment. We had lost that game to Holly Pond, but we wanted to take home that championship. And winning that four-overtime game helped us do that. Winning that game really got us so much closer to the title, so everybody played hard."
Flanigan: "Playing those teams, those good teams, really benefited us. We had to earn it, and that made it better. Even if we hadn't won the championship, that (semifinal) was a game to remember for Hanceville. And everywhere I go, whether it's a game now or Walmart, people stop me and say, 'Hey, you were that kid who made that shot against West Point. I was there.' And that's cool. It was a dream come true for me at the time."
Rusk: "It's definitely one you wish you could forget, but you never will. People still talk about it. It seemed like we had a lot of close defeats, both in football and basketball. It's one where you wish he doesn't make that shot, because it would have been a cooler story (laughs). But I think whichever team won that game was going to win the championship. You wouldn't have come down off that high. That's what happened."
Chandler: “The way we did it — that added to the championship. The whole team was just unbelievable. Looking back on that night, you remember the little stuff. You picked up on some coaching stuff, you kept guys ready on the bench. And you told the guys that no matter the situation, you can find a way to get it done.”
Weissend: “Going through what we went through, it made us want it more. We had a chip on our shoulder to finish the job.”
Boyd: “It was something special to see. Hanceville has had some incredible moments and has really put together some runs. To do what they did how they did it, that was impressive.”
Jones: “When you play six quarters like they did, it takes a lot to recoup. But then to have to play Holly Pond and then Cold Springs in the finals … it’s a credit to their kids and the job coach Wakefield did. No doubt that was the most unbelievable game I’ve ever coached in. It was so intense for 48 minutes. When it was over, I felt like I had played in it. It was fun. There had to be a loser, though. And, unfortunately, it was us.”