In the day’s second nail-biter, Melissa’s boys came up just short, falling to the Panthers 49-48. It was North Lamar’s Menderiz Gray, the game’s leading scorer with 20 points, who canned a short jumper from the corner to secure the Panthers’ win as the clock slipped toward zeroes. Following Gray’s dagger, Melissa’s court-length-pass try with one second left was knocked away by North Lamar defenders to close things out.

Only seconds earlier, freshman Kaedric Cobbs seemed to have earned victory for the Cards (6-6). Eighteen seconds remained in the game as he went to the free-throw line for a one-and-one chance with Melissa down, 47-45. After nailing the first shot, Cobbs’ second was off — but he stormed the boards, grabbed his own rebound and put it back for two points and the Cards led, 48-47.

But it wouldn’t last.

Still, Cards head coach Eric Benton was upbeat after having witnessed this hard-fought encounter.

“What I loved about it,” he said, “just as pure basketball goes, they made plays and made big shots, and we came down and made big plays and made big shots. … So, if you’re going to do something special, like get to come down here and play in this venue, you want the game to be special too. Even though we ended up on the short end of the stick, at least it was a game that was exciting and memorable. We just would’ve liked it to have been a little bit different result.”

He added that any chance his team gets to play improves the team’s overall performance.

“We’ve got so many young guys and we’ve got so many first year varsity guys that every time we get a chance to get out on the floor and compete, we get a little bit better at something, at least,” Benton said. “We’re starting to kind of settle into roles. Guys are starting to understand, ‘OK, this is what I bring to the table, this is what he brings to the table.’ So the sooner we get that figured out, 1 through 13 (roster spots), the better we’re going to be. But I think, slowly but surely, we’re certainly making strides.”

Sophomore Matt Holloway led Cardinal scorers with 13 points, as Cobbs and senior Gunnar Murphy each pumped in nine to round out Melissa’s top point-getters.

The Cards fell behind early but back-to-back layups by freshman Brendon Lewis and junior Josh Wood drew Melissa to within 11-9, and Lewis’ put-back off a rebound gave the Cards a 20-19 halftime lead. To open the third quarter, Holloway’s long 2-point jumper boosted Melissa’s margin to 22-19 before Gray bombed home a 3 to tie. There would be four more ties down the stretch, with North Lamar (4-9) leading by as much as six points, Melissa by as much as two.

As for the venue, Benton said this was the first time he’d coached at the AAC.

“It’s kind of like the kids said, it’s so big, and your voice kind of echoes,” he said. “So you hear yourself reverberating up in the rafters a little bit, where you normally wouldn’t. But it’s certainly a really special thing to get to do. … It was really a neat day.”

Murphy, who played at the AAC last year, said he was still excited this time around.

“It’s always a fun experience to play where some of best NBA players have played,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to get in here. The atmosphere is great, awesome. It didn’t come out like we wanted it too, for sure — got beat on another buzzer-beater.”

Though his first time to play the AAC, Holloway — who jacked home an NBA 3 this day — said he wasn’t affected much by the new surroundings.

“I was just excited like it was a normal game,” he said. “Just a normal game, bigger stadium. Not much to it. … I shoot a hundred shots in the summer, every day. I was just shooting them like they were one of those shots back in Melissa.”