FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - John Herrington had never taken a 3-pointer at Fayetteville State.
On Monday night, he had to.
And it couldn't have come at a better time.
Herrington's 55-foot heave from behind halfcourt as time expired rattled off the backboard, in and out of the basket, and then fell in to lift Fayetteville State to a thrilling 79-78 victory over Elizabeth City State in a raucous Felton J. Capel Arena.
"I never shoot 3s - not even in practice," said Herrington, the CIAA's leader in field goal percentage at 64.7 percent. "It's just not me. Not at all."
Standing 6-foot-8 and a chiseled 230 pounds, Herrington (Sr., Jacksonville, Fla.) did not attempt a 3-point shot in his first season as a junior college transfer last season. Through nine games this season, Herrington still hadn't lofted a shot from behind the arc.
He doesn't even shoot them in practice.
"I never shoot 3s - not even in practice. It's just not me. Not at all."
And his first one didn't come easy. Fayetteville State (4-6, 2-1) had to inbound the ball from the opposing baseline after calling a timeout following Blake Price's miss on the front of a 1-and-1. With 2.0 seconds left, the ball was supposed to find Tim Plummer. Instead, it fell to Herrington, who turned and dribbled to the middle of the floor. Just before the horn sounded, Herrington lofted the shot into the air.
"I just wanted to get a shot attempt," said Herrington, who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. "It felt good when it left my hands."
And it looked good. The only remaining question was whether the ball would stay down.
The shot rattled off the backboard, catching the front of the rim and rattling around. For a moment, it looked like the ball would fall out, hanging on the rim perilously. But fall in it did, sending the Capel faithful into pandemonium.
"It was just one of those great moments," said Fayetteville State head coach Alphonza Kee. "It was like a storybook ending. But I swear, the ball stayed up there at least 35 minutes."
Plummer (Sr., Apex, N.C.) continues to emerge as the team's leader, shaking off foul trouble to lead all players with 18 points to go with six rebounds. Jarmel Baxter (Sr., Davidson, N.C.) added 12 on four 3-pointers while Tyrrel Tate had 10 points.
Elizabeth City State was paced by Quintin Spady's 14 points, including four 3s. Paul Goldsmith had 12 while Marquie Cook and Angelo Sharpless had 11 apiece.
Herrington's shot capped a brilliant comeback for the Broncos in a game of runs, who won back-to-back games for the first time this season. Fayetteville State trailed 74-66 with 6:54 to go after a 9-1 Vikings run.
But the Broncos kept chipping away, and despite turning the ball over with 43 seconds to go and down by two, got another chance to win.
Elizabeth City State (8-5, 2-1) elected to run the clock down as much as possible, and with about 6 seconds left, Spady misfired on a contested 3. But neither team could corral the rebound, and the loose ball eluded the players on both teams to allow another 4 seconds to tick off. Finally, Price picked it up and was immediately fouled. His miss set up Herrington's heroics - even if the final play wasn't - obviously - designed for him.
"The play was drawn up for (Plummer), but it was well defended," said Kee. "I just wanted a shot attempt. That's all I asked for. But for John to get the winner - wow. He's such a hard-worker. He deserves this."
The second half was much like the first - a series of runs. Baxter kept his team in the game in the early part of the second period, hitting 3s on three straight Broncos' possessions as Elizabeth City State opened the half hitting 8 of its first 11 field goal attempts, including all three of its 3-point tries.
But the Vikings kept coming, using a 9-1 stretch to take a 65-57 lead with 11:07 to go, only to have the Broncos storm back with eight straight points - including six in just 42 seconds - to tie the game at 65 with 10 minutes remaining.
That set up the Vikings' final run, and for a while it appeared their late eight-point lead would be enough.
Not this time.
"We've always had the right effort, but we've had to battle adversity this season," Kee said. "I'm excited about our growth and the continuity of this team. We're gelling."
Fayetteville State opened with seven straight points in the game's first 102 seconds. Elizabeth City State came back with a 19-6 stretch, getting back-to-back 3-pointers from Spady to spark the run
But that only gave the Vikings a 19-16 lead, and the Broncos were able to come back with 13-2 spurt, taking a 31-26 lead with 4:41 to go in the half.
But the scoring binges weren't done. Elizabeth City State answered right back by scoring 14 of the next 18 points, building a 40-35 lead with just over a minute remaining in the period. The Vikings held on to a 42-39 edge at the break, getting 10 points from Goldsmith and nine from Spady, who was 3-for-4 from 3-point range in the first half.
Fayetteville State travels to Lincoln (PA) for a 7:30 p.m. game on Thursday.