JONESBORO — The bottom line was all that mattered to Nettleton boys' basketball coach Aaron Deaton late Friday night.
Nettleton was stretched to the limit in its 5A-East conference opener, needing a fourth-quarter rally to force overtime before beating Greene County Tech 86-79. Senior guard DaVares Whitaker scored 14 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to lead the Raiders to a home-court victory.
"It's like I told them, at the end of the day, we've lost this game so many times over the years. They beat us five straight times in games just like that," Deaton said. "I don't care how ugly it is, I don't care how bad we played. Just win."
Victory seemed to be slipping away from Nettleton with every 3-point attempt by GCT's Benji Goodman early in the fourth quarter.
Goodman drilled three 3s in the first three minutes of the final period, extending the Golden Eagles' lead to 65-56 with 5:36 remaining. The Raiders struggled to make a dent in the deficit for a couple of minutes, trailing 68-61 when GCT's Tyler Vincent scored at the 3:35 mark.
Nettleton worked its way back into the game by attacking the basket and the offensive boards. Jeremiah Turner sank two free throws, Curtez Smith made one and Whitaker scored to pull the Raiders within 68-66 with 2:27 to go.
Vincent broke the run with a free throw before Whitaker scored again with 1:02 left to cut GCT's lead to a point. The Raiders missed a shot for the lead and Goodman hit two free throws with 31.1 seconds to play, giving the Eagles a 71-68 lead.
Whitaker scored again with 19 seconds to play, and Goodman made one of two free throws with 16.4 seconds to go, giving GCT a 72-70 lead. Nettleton's Brandon Anderson drew a blocking foul on a drive to the basket and made both free throws with 5.8 seconds to play, tying the game at 72.
GCT was unable to score on its final possession of regulation as a cross-court pass sailed deep into the corner as time ran down.
Smith's 3 gave Nettleton a 75-74 lead with 2:05 left in overtime, starting a decisive 7-0 run. Nettleton's Braylon King drew an offensive foul on the Eagles, leading to Andre Davis' basket on the other end that made the score 77-74. Anderson scored in the paint with 1:05 remaining.
The Raiders closed the game by making seven free throws in the final 52 seconds of overtime.
"Curtez probably made the shot of the night to finally put us up and I think we went on a run there," Deaton said. "I thought in overtime and maybe the last couple of minutes, our pressure bothered them a little bit. Tech's a good team. They're really good when they make 12 3s."
While Whitaker led the Raiders, three of his teammates also scored in double figures. Anderson added 19 points, Turner 17 and Davis 13 along with 11 rebounds for Nettleton (13-3, 1-0 conference).
Nettleton shot 52 percent from the field. The Raiders were 6-of-18 on 3-point attempts, including 3-of-5 for Turner.
Goodman scored 21 points while hitting six of the Eagles' 12 3s. Vincent added 19 points for GCT (8-6, 0-1).
The Eagles were 10-of-15 from the free throw line to the Raiders' 24-of-30. With that in mind, GCT coach Jeff Guiot said his team had to shoot well from the 3-point line.
"We're going to shoot it. Some nights we shoot it well, some nights we don't. That's kind of where that lays," Guiot said. "We drove to the basket, no foul, so we had to shoot the 3. When they drove to the basket, there was a foul at least 70 percent of the time. What do you do?
"We can't control that; all we can control is what we do. Hats off to Nettleton, they've got a very nice team. The Whitaker kid is a difference maker for them. Nettleton is a very good team, and I was proud of how our guys competed."
Smith drew praise from Deaton for his defensive effort on Goodman after the Raiders made a change in the fourth quarter.
"He did a great job of guarding him," Deaton said. "I just thought eventually they would miss some. We knew they were going to make some 3s and our goal was to hold them to about five or six, and they ended up making 12."
Nettleton closed the first quarter on a 12-2 run for a 22-14 lead. The Raiders went up by 11, 27-16, early in the second quarter before Goodman hit a 3 to start an Eagle rally. GCT pulled into a tie at 32 before Smith's 3 gave the Raiders a 35-32 halftime lead.
GCT surged in front with a 9-0 run early in the third quarter. Vincent and Garrett Cupp converted three-point plays in a 9-2 run that positioned the Eagles for a 56-51 lead at the end of the period.
"If you had sat me down before the game and said you're going to win by seven, I would have taken it," Deaton said. "We played well in spurts."
Nettleton travels to Marion on Tuesday, while GCT hosts Batesville.