Especially at the end with the outcome still in doubt.
In the final minute, Mercer (17-12) could not get open looks against the Jaguars' zone and had to burn two timeouts. After the second timeout, Daryl Smith was called for an offensive foul with 19 seconds left.
"We just tried to set a baseline screen for Matthew (Robertson), who'd been shooting the ball well. We just didn't get it done," Cundiff said.
Justin Sanders connected on both free throws, then added another free throw after grabbing the last of his game-high 13 rebounds with 11.4 second left to close out scoring and send East Jessamine (15-13) to Friday's district final against West Jessamine.
Poor execution down the stretch
"One of the things we've been preaching about all week is execution down the stretch. We've lost four games by eight points, and a lot of it was just poor execution down the stretch," East Jessamine coach Chris O'Bryan said. "To execute and mentally stay focused like we did, I think that was the key to the game."
The Jaguars trailed 43-39 to start the fourth quarter, and Tommy Beach hit a layup with 7:19 left to put them ahead 45-39.
But Smith, who did not play until the fourth quarter and missed the regular-season finale for disciplinary reasons, started a 10-0 run with a free throw. Matthew Robertson, who led Mercer with 21 points, hit a 3-pointer and Jamel Taylor and Smith each had free throws to tie the game at 45-all with 3:53 remaining.
"I just thought we had good spacing," Cundiff said,
Cundiff also thought Smith could provide a spark.
"It was a coach's decision to give Daryl an opportunity," the Mercer coach said. "He's worked hard in practice and kept a positive attitude. So I thought it was the right thing to do."
Taylor put Mercer ahead with his bucket inside and Robertson capped the run with a pair of free throws that gave Mercer a 49-45 lead with 2:58 left. But that was it for the Titans.
Sanders, who scored seven of his game-high 24 points in the final period, had a steal and layup, Daniel Gainey's 3-pointer put East Jessamine ahead for good at 50-49, then Sanders scored again to put the Jaguars up 52-49 with 1:51 to play.
Taylor finished with 12 points and nine rebounds and gave Mercer its only inside scoring presence since Chase Wofford was sick, missed most of the second half, and finished with four points and five rebounds.
"He just couldn't go, and that hurt us because he'd been carrying us all season," Cundiff said, "That's why you're called a team, somebody is supposed to step up.
"I guess when you take the big boy (Wofford) out, it's hard to find guys to go to. We tried to get some one-on-one players, trying to create a shot because we couldn't get anything inside. Jamel played well, but they doubled down and we had to make plays."
Robertson made the plays early for Mercer.
He made back-to-back 3-pointers, made a layup and nailed the third of his five 3-pointers to help Mercer take a 27-20 lead with 1:46 left in the first half.
"He was shooting the ball extremely well. We just went away from him a couple of times," Cundiff said.
Taylor had eight points in the second quarter as the Titans held a 27-23 lead at halftime. Mercer was 9-for-15 in the second quarter to erase a six-point deficit, but finished the night 16-for-51 (31 percent), making five of 18 3-pointers.
Tommy Beach added 12 points and five boards for the Jaguars, who were 13-for-23 in the second half (56 percent) and 21-for-44 for the game.
MERCER (17-12) - Daryl Smith 2, Cory Jackson 2, Ward Dedman 2, Chase Wofford 4, Trevor Short 2, Matthew Robertson 21, Ethan Ashford 3, Jamel Taylor 12.
EAST JESSAMINE (15-13) - Ryan Hamann 3, Ryan Hager 2, Darius Jackson 1, Daniel Gainey 7, Justin Sanders 24, Tommy Beach 12, Matt Whitley 6.Mercer6273949E. Jessamine12234355