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The Covenant Lions won the TNCAA championship Tuesday. Noah Mason, far right, was named tourney MVP.

Nobody in the building was sitting. Everybody knew where the ball was going too. Coming out of a timeout with the TNCAA championship hanging in the balance, all eyes were on Noah Mason as he was going to have the chance to put on the Superman cape one final time for the Covenant Lions.

Mason more than earned his hero status Tuesday, sinking a buzzer beater in overtime as the Lions topped Madison Academy 65-64 for the TNCAA state championship. It was part of a 36-point effort for Mason, the school’s all-time leading scorer, in his final game as a Lion.

The shot, one that Mason has been working on since he was a kid, couldn’t have been tougher. Mason had just 5.5 seconds to work with and he put his head down, drawing the entire Knight defense at the rim before he rose for a layup. He hung in the air just long enough to flip up a leaner, one that trickled in just before the clock hit zero.

In that moment, Mason’s dreams had come true.

“I have dreamed of hitting the game winner while working in my driveway since I was a kid. Now that it actually happened, it’s overwhelming,” said Mason, who has been Captain Clutch all season for Covenant, leading the program to back-to-back TNCAA titles. “I couldn’t have asked for a better team this share the experience with.”

Mason had already hit two free throws with :32 left in OT that drew the Lions within one, 64-63. He almost missed his chance for glory when he threw a pass away with 7.4 seconds to go, but he came right back with a steal off the Lions’ full-court press to set up the final possession.

Coach Johnny Smith decided to use a timeout and there was no need to grab the clipboard. The play was simple – get the ball to the best scorer the Lions have ever had in uniform.

“I think the whole gym knew where the ball was going. I would have been comfortable with any man on the court taking the shot, but in the end, Noah wanted the ball and he finished,” said Smith, who took over the team midway through the season and led an incredible turnaround down the stretch.

Mason already had his mind made up before the ball even came into play. With his coach hyping him up, Mason was going left and going up strong. There was no thought of a miss – just if he was going to his a game-winning shot or game-winning free throws.

“Coach pulled me to the side and said, ‘This is what you’ve always dreamed of – this is your time.’ I knew if I drove in for a tough finish, I would make the layup or get a foul and knock down the free throws,” said Mason.

Noah Mason hits the game-winning shot in the TNCAA championship Tuesday night (Full video available on the CA Lions Facebook page by clicking the link)


It capped an incredible night for the Lions, one that seemed almost unthinkable just a few months ago. Covenant never seemed to find its footings through the first few months, struggling to adapt to a new leader and working to replace so many seniors who led the program to a TNCAA championship last fall.

Something seemed to click when Smith took the reins on the sideline. Covenant had a big win at home over Boyd in January, courtesy of a game-winning layup at the buzzer by Mason, and gained momentum down the stretch with their senior scorching the nets.

Once the TNCAA tournament started, Covenant knew it had a chance to repeat. Tuesday’s hurdle was the toughest though.

Madison Academy was one of the league’s top teams all year and had the advantage of playing at home in the finals. The Knights rode that wave of energy to a fantastic start, scoring the game’s first 10 points and building a 23-9 lead by the end of the first quarter.

Garryn Duggin hit a key 3-pointer late in the first, settling the Lions down a little bit after such a slow start. Covenant, as it has done many times in the last month, just put its head down and kept fighting from there. Eventually, Smith knew this group would find itself back in the game when it mattered most.

Johnny Smith stepped in at midseason and led Covenant to a title.

“These kids are a special group. We’ve talked many times about heart and they responded tonight,” said Smith. “We’ve had many times of hearing ‘we may not be the most athletic or the most skilled,’ but we make up for it in ‘Want To.’”

The Lions roared back in the second quarter, getting cooking when Mason and Luke Campbell drained back-to-back triples to make it 23-15. Mason continued the run with a steal and score, capping an 8-0 spurt that had the Knights reeling.

Casper Standefer, Covenant’s unguardable big man on the block, kept it going later in the period. On a pair of free throws for Mason, the senior sank the first, but missed the second. Standefer was there to clean it up, grabbing the board and scoring with ease as the Knights couldn’t keep the 6-foot-9 Lion off the glass.

Standefer added a layup later in the period, part of a six-point night for one the program’s building blocks going forward.

Mason caught fire late in the second, hitting two more 3-pointers in quick succession as Madison Academy had no answers for the Lions’ leader. After his second make in 15 seconds – which came after Mason pump-faked, side-stepped and hit nothing but net – Mason kept his hands up while running back to halfcourt. All that was missing was the MJ shrug as Mason scored 12 points in the period to get Covenant back in the game.

Caleb Hines, a defensive pest that frustrated the Knights all night, made it 33-32 late in the second quarter when he was able to finish a layup from a tough angle in transition. Hines went up and under, twisting just enough at the last second to get the ball off the glass and cut the Knight lead to one.

Campbell followed with a corner 3-pointer, giving Covenant its first lead at 35-33 with 1:36 left in the first half. Madison Academy was able to answer though, getting a layup and then a buzzer beat to lead 37-35 at the break.

Smit Patel put Covenant up for the first time in the second half, 44-42, with a baseline jumper with 3:00 left in the third quarter. Patel’s soft touch ignited a 6-0 run, capped by Hines getting a steal and score to give the Lions their biggest lead, 48-42.

Covenant was still leading 49-46 going into the fourth, but Madison Academy responded with a Braden Larson 3-pointer with 6:54 left to tie the game. From there, it was a one-possession game the rest of the way, with drama building after each made shot.

Patel hit a key free throw with 4:10 left for Covenant to make it 55-53 in favor of Madison Academy, then Mason tied the game with one of his patented drives to the hoop with 2:58 left.

The Knights jumped back out in front with 51.2 seconds left, getting a tough leaner from Justin Huston to fall as the home crowd went wild. Covenant had the silencer though, knowing the easiest two points were going to the man nobody could handle.

Mason pushed the pace, drew attention in the lane and lofted a high pass to the block. Nobody was going to be able to reach higher than Standefer as he tipped the ball to himself, gathered against a double team and finished over the entire Knight defense with 23 seconds left to tie the game at 57.

Using Hines’ hounding defense, Covenant forced a turnover with 17.5 seconds left in regulation, giving the team a chance to win late. After a timeout with 9.5 seconds remaining, Mason dribbled the clock out before attacking, but the ball was poked away from him just before the buzzer.

It was a tough moment to let a potential game winner slip away, but fate would give him another opportunity moments later.

Hines, one of the many unsung heroes from Tuesday’s win, had a huge bucket in overtime to set up Mason’s final flourish. When Covenant was down 64-61 with the ball on its own basket, it was Hines who was able to flash open in the Knights zone for a nice floater that made it a one-point game with 1:20 left.

Madison Academy answered with a big turnaround jumper in the paint by William Downs, who had a team-high 16 points for the Knights. Up 64-61 and after a Covenant miss, the Knights missed a golden opportunity to put the game away on free throws with :38 left.

Carter Boskind missed the front end of a 1-and-1 in the final moments and Mason cleared the board. He never gave the ball up, charging the length of the floor and getting fouled with 32 seconds left. Mason calmly buried both, bringing his team back to within one, 64-63.

It would stay that way until the final second, when Mason hit a shot for the ages and gave Covenant its second straight state championship. Smith was an assistant when the Lions won last year, but the longtime Covenant coach knows just how special it is to win back-to-back.

“It’s a big step for athletics at Covenant. It’s one thing to win a championship every once in a while, but it’s another to win back-to-back in any sport. It shows what is building and that the program is going in the right direction,” said Smith.

Making it three in a row isn’t out of the question. While Mason, the TNCAA tournament MVP, and rugged and dependable forward Smit Patel won’t be back, the cupboard isn’t bare at Covenant. Standefer, Campbell, Hines and host of capable Lions should be back in uniform next winter.

By then, the Lions may need to be checking on the patent rights on “3-Peat.”

Lion scoring – Noah Mason 36, Luke Campbell 9, Casper Standefer 6, Caleb Hines 6, Smit Patel 5, Garryn Duggin 3

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