Things were not looking good for the Wilson boys basketball team at halftime of its District of Columbia State Athletic Association championship game with St. John’s.
The Tigers were down by seven points, had shot 1-for-9 from three-point land, and could not seem to get any momentum flowing in their direction.
But then, after consecutive and-one plays, and a hard foul by Willem Bouma on St. John’s Casey Morsell that resulted in double-technicals being handed out and the Wilson crowd being driven into a frenzy, the Tigers found their mojo.
The sequence seemed to spark Wilson, as it stormed back from a seven-point deficit late in the third to force overtime on an Ayinde Hikim layup with 14 seconds left in regulation. Two intense overtimes later, it was the Tigers holding on for the 66-64 win as Tre Wood’s running prayer missed as time expired.
“I do (think it brought us back together),” Wilson head coach Angelo Hernandez said about the third-quarter sequence. “The crowd, our fans were what really got us back into it. These guys feed off of that and when they know people are behind them – it rallied them.”
Play was frenetic to start with both teams attempting a lot of three-pointers. Wilson’s Jay Heath, Jr. connected for the team’s lone make of the first half, while St. John’s drained three in the first quarter and five for the half. Wood accounted for three of those makes, with two coming in succession early in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, the Tigers seemed content to settle for long-range jumpers. Another telling sign on their discombobulation was their zero assists on nine makes. Hikim (eight points) and Ricardo Lindo (five points) were the only players with more than four points at the break.
“We couldn’t hit a shot in the beginning,” Hernandez said. “We were 1-for-9 at halftime from three. Defensively is where we had to start and I told them that. We aren’t going to beat everybody every night by scoring points. We have to stop people.
“I told them at the half, if you guys want to lay down then stay down here. If you want to come out and play the way we are supposed to and go with our gameplan – then let’s go. No matter the score, anything can happen.”
Wilson was down 10 to start the third and could not chip away at the St. John’s lead until midway through the quarter. Heath was fouled on a layup and converted the free throw to complete the three-point play. Then, on the next possession, Hikim was fouled while scoring but failed to knock down the freebie. Still, the plays gave the Tigers a sense of belief.
It was a short time later that Morsell was fouled on a breakaway and landed hard on his side. The Cadets’ Devon Savage shoved Bouma, which led to Lindo stepping in to protect his teammate. Both were accessed technicals, which drove the Wilson student section into a craze while the officials sorted things out.
“That was a big play,” admitted Hikim, who led all scorers with 21 points. “We kind of came together after that and knew what we had to do.”
Hikim took over in the fourth with his team down four. The senior scored eight points in the quarter, including the game-tying layup with 14 seconds left in which he went right around Wood.
“My coach trusts me a lot, and I trust him, so he put the ball in my hands and I got it done,” he said. “This is the best game I have ever played in.”
Wood had a chance to win the game in regulation, but missed a long three-pointer.
Wilson led by two for the majority of the first overtime, and thought it had the game in its pocket until Bouma fouled Ishamel Leggett with 14 ticks left while he was shooting a three in the corner. Leggett made the first two free throws, but missed the third. The Tigers’ last possession was not great and ended with Lindo throwing up a running prayer that missed everything.
The Tigers finally jumped out to start the second overtime with Josiah Marable (11 points, 11 rebounds) putting back a miss to give his team a two-point lead. Heath, who missed two big free throws late in the first overtime that would have given Wilson a four-point lead with 20 seconds left, then buried a triple to put his team up five a minute into the frame.
“My team believed in me when I was down,” Heath said. “My coaches, everybody was telling me to get up. They needed me and they pulled me back and that’s how I hit that three.”
The junior ended up with 15 points and was named tournament MVP afterward.
“We beat Gonzaga. Nobody said we could do that,” he said. “They were nationally ranked. Now we come here and beat St. John’s. All the odds were against us. Nobody believed in us, but we believed in ourselves and that’s how we came out here and did it.”
Hernandez mentioned the two for their clutch play.
“We believed in our big fella (Marable),” he said. “He made some mistakes, but guess what. At the end he came up big for us. Made layups when we needed them.
“And then there was Jay Heath. He missed the free throws and I told him, ‘That play is over.’ In overtime he stepped up. This was the second game in a row he hit a big shot to put us ahead.”
Despite being down seven with less than two minutes to go, St. John’s did not give up. Morsell hit a three, then after a steal, Qwanzi Samuels, Jr. raced down the court for a two-handed dunk to bring the Cadets within two with 16 seconds to go. Wilson’s Dimingus Stevens then stepped out of bounds to miraculously give St. John’s one last chance, but Wood’s running flip missed and allowed the Tigers to run out the clock.
Morsell led the Cadets with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Leggett (13 points) and Wood (11) were the team’s other top scorers.
After winning his second consecutive District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association title last week, Hernandez can now bring the program’s first-ever state championship back to Tenleytown.
“It feels excellent because everybody said we couldn’t do it,” Hernandez said. “When the state tournament came out we were the fourth seed. People said we should have been higher – we should have, maybe – but we are going to play who we are supposed to play.
“Shouts out to the whole Tiger Nation. We love ‘em.”