Jack Puisis was simply trying to draw a foul. He never really thought his improbable shot in the late going would find the range.
But Puisis, a 6-foot-1 junior guard, was able to connect with about seven seconds left to lift fourth-seeded Jackson past top-seeded Charleston 46-44 in Monday night's semifinals of the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament at the Show Me Center.
The Indians trailed 44-43 with under 10 seconds remaining when Puisis drove into the lane. He appeared to be sealed off by several defenders, but tossed up an off-balance shot from about eight feet that somehow nestled into the basket.
"I was thinking about the free-throw line, looking for the foul. I knew we only had a few seconds left," said Puisis, who added with a grin, "It was a great feeling when it went in."
Jackson had plenty of great feelings after pulling off a major upset against two-time defending tournament champion Charleston, the state's top-ranked Class 3 team. The Indians, who improved to 10-1 with their 10th straight victory, will face rival Central in tonight's 7:30 p.m. title contest.
"We're underestimated by people, but we're showing them we can play," Puisis said.
Tyler McNeely, a powerful 6-3 senior center who is one of the area's top football prospects, led the Indians with 13 points. Senior guard Nick Fiehler scored 10 points while Puisis and 6-3 junior forward Jason Schafer both added eight.
"Coach said before the game there hadn't been an upset yet in the tournament, so why not us," McNeely said.
Charleston, which fell to 9-1, received 18 points from lightning-quick 5-8 senior guard Marcus Biles. Senior guard Trentez Lane added 10 points and freshman forward Jamarcus Williams had eight. But leading scorer Ashton Farmer, a 6-6 junior center averaging about 20 points per game, had just two.
"Jackson is very good," Charleston coach Danny Farmer said. "I was telling the kids at the beginning of the game that this would be our toughest game of the year."
The Blue Jays were hurt by continued poor free-throw shooting. They made just five of 14 foul shots while Jackson was 12 of 18.
"That was the difference in the game," Farmer said. "We've struggled with our free-throw shooting all year but it hadn't cost us. But eventually it's going to cost you in a close game and it did tonight."
Charleston started strong, leading 14-5 after one quarter and 20-9 early in the second period. But Jackson recovered to lead 24-23 at halftime and things were tight the rest of the way.
Jackson carried a 37-34 advantage into the fourth quarter and Fiehler's long 3-pointer just 15 seconds into the period gave the Indians their biggest lead at 40-34.
Charleston scored the next six points to forge a 40-40 tie. Jackson went ahead 42-40, two Lane free throws with three minutes left made it 42-42, and Biles scored on a tough drive with 41 seconds remaining for a 44-42 Charleston lead.
Jackson had possession when Biles was called for a technical foul with 25 seconds remaining after being whistled for a non-shooting foul.
Puisis made one of two free throws on the technical, pulling Jackson within 44-43, and the Indians retained possession, which led to his shot for the go-ahead basket.
Charleston called a timeout with 4.7 seconds left. A long pass went to Williams, who missed a 3-pointer. Brad Eaton made one of two free throws with 0.9 seconds remaining to account for the two-point margin.
"I'm so proud of the guys. It was a huge character game," Kiehne said. "Charleston is as good as advertised, and after we got down 20-9 to the No. 1 team in Class 3, we could have folded. But we never gave up."
But as exhilarating as Monday's triumph was, Kiehne doesn't want the Indians to be content as they chase their first Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament championship since 1988, when the school captured its only title. Jackson was second in both 2000 and 2001.
"We don't want to be satisfied," Kiehne said. "We want to win it all."
JACKSON (46) -- Brad Eaton 3, Ryan Mirly 4, Nick Fiehler 10, Jack Puisis 8, Tyler McNeely 13, Jason Schafer 8. FG 16, FT 12-18, F 18 (3-pointers: Fiehler 1, Puisis 1. Fouled out: none)
CHARLESTON (44) -- Marcus Biles 18, Trentez Lane 10, Joshua Strayhorn 3, Ashton Farmer 2, Jamarcus Williams 8, Danny Farmer II 3. FG 19, FT 5-14, F 19 (3-pointers: D. Farmer 1. Fouled out: none)