FORT WALTON BEACH — Michael Hawkins had seen enough.
What once was a 13-point second-half lead over Crestview on Tuesday had become a 53-51 deficit for Choctaw, which needed someone to come through in the clutch.
Enter Hawkins, who put the Indians on his back en route to a 57-53 win.
First, the senior point guard picked Jonathan Buckelew’s pocket and tied the game on a coast-to-coast layup with 39.3 seconds left in the contest.
“Buckelew got picked at the top of the key and it was a great pick,” said Crestview coach Ken Meisner, whose team fell to 2-7 on the year. “The kid went down to score to give them back the momentum.”
Then, after the Indians (6-4) forced one of Crestview’s 17 turnovers, Hawkins drove to the hoop up the right side, drew the foul and calmly swished two free throws, giving the Indians a 55-53 advantage with 5. 9 seconds to play.
“I saw an opening and took it. I drew the foul and just hit my free throws,” said Hawkins, who had a game-high six steals to go along with 11 points, three rebounds and three assists.
Hawkins wasn’t done.
After inbounds underneath Crestview’s hoop, Hawkins split a Buckelew pass to Ronnie Baylark, who got a piece of ball for a Bulldog turnover. That led to Angel Acosta’s pair of game-sealing free throws with 1.3 seconds remaining.
“I have all the faith in my teammates,” Hawkins said of Acosta’s clutch shots at the charity stripe. “I knew he would knock them down.”
The down-to-the-wire finish came after a dominant start for Choctaw, which received a game-high 19 points from Bryan Baker.
Baker scored 12 points in the opening half and the Indians turned 10 Crestview turnovers into 14 points to lead 29-21 at halftime.
Out of the locker room, the lead ballooned to 42-29 after Hawkins and Baker’s back-to-back treys.
But Crestview wouldn’t go away quietly.
Buckelew — who had a team-best 16 points — hit one of his four 3-pointers, Baylark scored five of his 12 points and a Clay Hancock had a putback to cap off a 10-1 run, ending the quarter with Crestview trailing 43-39.
The lead increased back to 50-42, but Hancock knocked down three free throws, Buckelew hit two straight layups and Jerry Aaron, who had 12 points, and Baylark connected on back-to-back drives, giving the Bulldogs a 53-51 lead.
But then Hawkins showed up. And the rest is history.
“We had our chances and that’s been the story of every game this year,” Meisner said. “You can’t question the kids’ effort and they’re close. The important thing is to remain positive because it’s easy for the kids to get discouraged. But we’re close.”