By CHARLES ABANKWA
WASHINGTON – Nate Watson kept the Bishop O’Connell Knights within striking distance of one of the best teams in the WCAC for a half, and then his guards took over and finished to hold off the Gonzaga Eagles 69-65 for the team’s sixth consecutive victory on Wednesday.
“It feels great,” Watson said. “We wanted to beat the top WCAC teams in the league and this win means a lot to us. I think we learned today how to play with effort; today was about effort.”
Watson got off to a fast start, grabbing an offensive board and putting it back for a layup to open the game. The Knights jumped out to an early 9-3 lead after a Randall Gaskins Jr. mid-range jumper. The Eagles closed the early gap with a 14-8 run to end the quarter, including a Myles Dread 3-pointer as time expired off of a Chris Lykes assist to knot the score at 17-17.
In the second quarter, Lykes continued to make his impact felt on the game, but this time by scoring the ball. Lykes scored eight of his 13 first half points in the quarter. Watson wouldn’t be overshadowed however, scoring 11 of his game-high 25 points in the second frame. The battle between Watson and Lykes kept it a close one as the game was still tied at 34 going into halftime.
The third quarter began with both teams trading baskets and neither team taking a lead of more than two points. After a D’Marco Baucum layup gave the Knights a 41-40 lead, guard Matt Lewis extended the lead to four with a 3-pointer. Gonzaga kept the game close as Prentiss Hubb found himself at the free throw line on consecutive possessions and was able to hit three of four and cut the O’Connell lead to 48-47 with a minute to play in the third quarter.
The momentum was short-lived for the Eagles, though, as a pair of freshmen came up big for the Knights. A Jay Heath Jr. jumper made the score 50-47, and then on the Knights’ final possession of the quarter Sherif Kenney banked in a deep 3-pointer as he regained control of the ball after mishandling his dribble. Kenney’s jumper came with no time left on the clock, and gave the Knights a 53-47 lead going into the final quarter.
“That was one of those, uh no - great shots, and I asked him did he call it,” said a chuckling O’Connell head coach Joe Wooten.
Gaskins gave the Knights their largest lead of the game in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter after he got to the basket for a quick layup. Lykes continued to respond as he did all night, and hit a long 3-pointer on the Eagles next possession before finding Jack Lawrence for a layup that brought the score to 55-52.
While the Eagles were the team with the foul count in its favor, it was the Knights who made the most of their chances at the free throw line. The Knights scored six of their next 10 points from the line. While hitting free throws extended the Knights lead to 65-58, it also left the Eagles with enough time to stage one last comeback.
Hubb grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to the cut the lead to 65-60, and Gonzaga coach Steve Turner called a timeout with 2:18 left to play. O’Connell’s Lewis was called for an offensive foul on the very next play, but the Eagles couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity, missing two looks at the basket. The Knights were able to take advantage, as Gaskins Jr. came up with a timely put back layup with 1:31 left.
“I thought probably the momentum changer was when Sharif Kenney drove baseline and Randall Gaskins had the tip in,” Wooten said. “It put us up by seven and I thought that was the play of the game.”
Lykes scored the final five points for the Eagles, but missed two costly free throws down the stretch. Heath Jr. found himself at the line after Lykes split a pair of free throws to bring the game to 67-65, and made both free throws with just seconds remaining to seal the victory.