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By KEITH NIEBUHR
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000
LECANTO -- In 0.8 seconds, a player barely has time to catch the ball, turn around and shoot, unless he is unguarded.
In less that a second, anything can happen.
Just ask Lecanto forward R.J. McIntyre, who caught an inbounds pass and canned a shot from just inside the halfcourt line at the buzzer to lift the Panthers past North Marion 51-48.
"They were playing a zone and left R.J. open," Lecanto coach Chris Nichols said. "He hit a miraculous shot."
Lecanto improves to 3-0 overall, 1-0 in Class 4A District 7. The Panthers were winless against district opponents last season.
"I was just trying to make it," McIntyre said. "I was just trying to get the shot off. It feels great."
McIntyre's miracle would not have been possible if not for the heads-up play of junior center Dalton Meyers, who dove for a loose ball with time running out and fought off three North Marion players to retain possession. While still on the floor, he called timeout with 0.8 seconds left.
The final seconds were a microcosm of the game.
In a sloppy and frantic 32 minutes, the lead changed hands 12 times. A layup by Chris Jackson with 2:18 left gave the Panthers a 48-44 lead. But two turnovers in the next minute allowed North Marion (0-1, 0-1) to pull even on a layup by Jamie Thompson with 1:01 remaining.
North Marion had a chance to hold for the last shot after a Lecanto turnover but was called for traveling with 30 seconds left. Twenty seconds later North Marion forced a steal but then turned it over and the ball was recovered by Meyers.
"We're not very good right now," North Marion coach Tim Brinkley said. "Hopefully, we'll play better as we go along."
Lecanto was almost as sloppy.
The Panthers commited 18 turnovers and gave up many easy baskets. That allowed North Marion to stay within striking distance despite poor play.
"Our pressure wasn't that effective," Nichols said. "They got a lot of layups out of it. They came back. They're a tough team and they're going to be very good once they get going. This was a big win."
McIntyre and Curtis Laytart led Lecanto with 12 points each.