"I knew it was good when I let it go," Hopson said, grinning broadly. "It felt like Florida."
The reference was to the Vol-Gator game Jan. 31 in Knoxville. Hopson drained a 19-footer from the right wing with 21 seconds left to turn a 59-60 deficit into a 61-60 victory.
Although he finished with a game-high 34 points on 15-of-29 shooting Wednesday, Hopson's game-winner was the only 3-pointer he hit all night. He was 0 for 4 prior to the game's final second. The 6-7 junior made the one that mattered most, however.
The News-Sentinel vs. DeRoyal contest was a thriller, featuring a number of big plays and lead changes in the final minutes.
Ex-Vol Dane Bradshaw, representing The News-Sentinel, scored on a drive to tie the score at 96-all with 4:11 to go. Current Vol Melvin Goins roared through traffic to hit a 5-footer from in front to give DeRoyal a 98-96 lead just 11 seconds later.
Bradshaw drove for a three-point play at 3:25 but Goins answered with a 10-footer that put DeRoyal on top 100-99 with 2:58 left. Hopson hit one of two free throws to tie the score with 2:45 remaining. A free throw by LMU's Darryl Garrett gave DeRoyal a 101-100 lead with 2:00 left but ex-Vol Wayne Chism bagged a pair of free throws to put The News-Sentinel back on top 102-101 at the 1:34 mark.
Hopson bagged a 15-footer to widen the gap to 104-101 with 50 seconds left but Goins nailed a 3-pointer with 37 seconds remaining to tie the score.
At this point The News-Sentinel decided to hold for one shot and let Hopson take it. DeRoyal wisely double-teamed Hopson, however, forcing him to give up the ball.
"Dane had told me that if they doubled me to give the ball up and I'd get it back," Hopson recalled. "When I tried to drive, big Brian (6-10 Vol teammate Brian Williams) double-teamed me, so I gave it up to J.P. (teammate J.P. Primm of UNC-Asheville) but I knew I was going to get it back in the corner if I'd face up."
Even when he got the ball back, Hopson was closely guarded near the right sideline. With the clock at 0:01, however, he had no choice but to elevate, fall back and let fly.
"I looked at the clock as the ball was in the air," he said, "and I knocked it down."
Chism chipped in 23 points for The News-Sentinel, hitting 8 of 19 field-goal tries (2 of 8 from 3) and 5 of 8 foul shots. Bradshaw added 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
Garrett was brilliant in defeat, scoring 32 points to pace DeRoyal. Goins chipped in 28 points, hitting 11 of 16 field-goal tries (4 of 7 from 3) and 2 of 2 foul shots. Williams added 15 points, making 7 of 13 from the field and 1 of 3 from the line. Vol signee Jordan McRae contributed 11 points, going 5 of 13 from the field, including 1 of 4 from behind the arc.
Game 2 saw Richardson Construction hammer First Tennessee Bank 124-97. Vol junior Renaldo Woolridge led the winners with 30 points, hitting 14 of 30 from the field (1 of 6 from 3) and 1 of 2 from the line. Former Vols Damon Johnson (22 points) and C.J. Watson (11 points, plus a boatload of assists) also had productive games for the victors.
LMU's D'Mario Curry was spectacular in defeat, scoring 40 points for First Tennessee. Vol sophomores Skylar McBee (19 points) and Kenny Hall (17) played supporting roles. McBee missed his first eight 3-point tries before hitting three of his last four. He finished 7 of 21 from the field (3 of 12 from 3) and 2 of 2 from the free-throw line. Hall was 8 of 14 from the field (1 of 3 from 3) and 0 of 3 from the line.
Ray's ESG beat Choice Spine 124-110 in the night's finale. Tony White, Jr., scored 34 to lead the winners. Ex-Vol Chris Lofton added 27 and UT signee Trae Golden chipped in 18.
Tennessee junior Cameron Tatum hit 24 for Choice Spine. UTC's Ricky Taylor added 19 and former Vol J.P. Prince 13.