As he stepped to the line with 3.7 seconds remaining and his team trailing Bunnell by one point, Jaylen Jennings had a simple thought going through his mind.
"I told myself I couldn't miss again," the Notre Dame-Fairfield junior said.
Last season against Kolbe Cathedral, Jennings missed a pair of free throws which would have iced the game for Notre Dame, leaving the door open for the Cougars to win in the final seconds.
There would be no such replay Saturday afternoon at a jam-packed Rielly Auditorium. Jennings calmly sank both shots, propelling Notre Dame to a 73-72 victory in the SWC Tip-Off Tournament championship -- a game originally scheduled for Dec. 14, 2012 but was moved due to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School earlier that day.
Bunnell found itself with a final chance to win it, but Ryan Pittman's 3-pointer rattled in and out of the rim as time expired.
"I thought it was going in, it was a big weight off my shoulders," said Jennings, who scored a season-high 16 points.
The fact Notre Dame had a chance to win the game was improbable. The Bulldogs (9-2) had taken a 72-71 lead with 19 seconds left on a pair of free throws by Pittman after he was fouled following an offensive rebound after Tim White's missed 3-pointer.
On the ensuing possession Lancers star guard Danny Upchurch traveled with five seconds left.
Bunnell, trying to get the ball to its leading scorer, Matt Nolting, was forced to call a timeout on the inbound under the Lancers' basket. On their next attempt the Bulldogs threw it long for a streaking Issac Vann only for Jennings to tip it and come down with the ball. Vann, who scored a game-high 26 points, tried to go for the ball only to foul Jennings with 3.7 ticks left.
"I'll put that one on me. We weren't going to throw it long, but if it was there, we were going to take it," Bunnell coach Pat Yerina said. "We said no fouls, but you're in the heat of the battle. In hindsight, that wasn't my best call."
The final five seconds were a tough ending for the Bulldogs, who fought back from a 13-point halftime deficit thanks to Vann. The athletic 6-foot-3 junior simply took over the game, getting to the rim at will and scoring 12 points in the third -- 10 during the Bulldogs' 16-2 run to open the quarter.
"A good fighting team is what we have," Yerina said. "They made a play at the end."
Notre Dame (8-3) absorbed the body blow and carried a 58-56 lead into the fourth.
"A lot of teams would fold," Lancers coach Vin Laczkoski said. "We called two timeouts in the first minute of the second half and we didn't fold. There's something to be said for mental toughness."
Neither team led by more than three points in the fourth quarter. A free throw by Upchurch put the Lancers ahead 71-68 with under two minutes left. Vann responded with a floater in the lane, setting off the chain of events in the wild final minute.
"I've lost enough games in my life where I was on the receiving end of that, so I'll take this," Laczkoski said.
Upchurch finished with a team-high 25 points, while Earl Coleman added 15 points and 15 rebounds for the Lancers, who won their fourth straight.
Pittman chipped in with 18, while Nolting was held to a season-low eight -- nearly 15 off his average.
The teams combined for 45 personal fouls, although only one player -- Bunnell's Claude Joseph -- fouled out.
"I thought it was over, but you have to keep playing until the final whistle," Vann said.
SWC Tip-Off Tournament championship
Dan Upchurch 5 13-16 25 C.J. Davidson 5 0-0 12 Kevin Laing 2 1-1 5 Jaylen Jennings 6 3-4 16 Earl Coleman 4 5-6 15 Jordan Pettway 0 0-2 Jesse McIntosh 0 0-0 0 Totals: 22 26-33 73
BUNNELL 13 16 27 16--72
ND-FAIRFIELD 23 19 16 15--73
3-pointers: B--Pittman 3, Nolting 2, White; ND--Upchurch 2, Davidson 2, Jennings
Fouled out: B--Claude Joseph