FAIRFAX – All season long, T.C. Williams’ success has hinged on the strength of its defense, and in Friday’s Virginia Group AAA state quarterfinal game against Phoebus, it got the stops it needed at just the right time.
The Titans used several key stops and clutch free shooting in the final three minutes to pull out a 58-51 victory over the Phantoms at Robinson Secondary School.
“It was a great group effort defensively,” T.C. coach Julian King said. “We hunkered down towards the end of the fourth quarter and got a few good stops and defensive rebounds, and brought it back down and executed on offense. We just played probably the way we’re supposed to play.”
T.C. Williams (25-5) advances to face L.C. Bird – a 73-72 winner over Osbourn – in a state semifinal game at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center in Richmond on March 9. The state championship game is scheduled for March 11 at VCU.
In a game that featured seven lead changes – all in the second half – T.C. junior guard Daquan Kerman put the Titans ahead on a lay-in with 3:30 remaining. Kerman, Jordan Byrd, Rick Mathews and Jamal Pullen combined to go 10-of-14 from the foul line in the final three minutes to seal the victory.
“We started off kind of slow,” T.C. junior forward TJ Huggins said. “But once we, like, got comfortable and past the early jitters, then we picked it up.”
The Phantoms – who were making their first state tourney appearance – won the team’s regular-season matchup, beating the Titans 48-41 at the Third Annual Virginiapreps.com Classic in Virginia Beach in January.
“The first game, we had 22 turnovers,” Pullen said, “and we wanted to cut that down and stop their runs. The last game we played them, they went on a run that we couldn’t come back from.”
T.C. Williams had turnover issues early on Friday as the Phantoms (21-9) took a 7-1 lead to open the game, but the Titans stormed back to tie it at 7-7 before Phoebus senior guard Breon Key made a jumper as the first-quarter buzzer sounded to put his team up 9-7.
“We don’t get a chance to see this type of athlete all the time,” King said, “so they had to get readjusted. These guys have played a tough non-conference schedule, but we went away from that going into the district and region tournament. So, it was kind of a shock for us the first couple of minutes, but we just had to adjust.”
Phoebus stretched its lead to as many as six points in the second quarter before T.C. closed the gap and tied it at 22-22 heading into the break.
T.C.’s Tyler Driver opened the second half with a lay-in to give the Titans their first lead of the night, but Phoebus sophomore standout Troy Williams – the nephew of AAU coach Boo Williams – quickly answered with a lay-up of his own to tie the game. The Phantoms built their lead back to six points on a 3-pointer by sophomore Khaaliq Fletcher, but the Titans again rallied to retake a 37-35 leading entering the final quarter.
The Titans maintained the lead until Phoebus sophomore James Daniel III drained a 3-pointer to put the Phantoms up by two, and an ensuing T.C. turnover led to a lay-in by Key that gave PHS a four-point advantage with 4:56 remaining.
As they had done all night, though, the Titans roared back. They trimmed the deficit to one point on a pair of Pullen foul shots with 4:32 to go, and just over a minute later, Kerman stripped the ball from Daniel at midcourt and raced in for a lay-up to put T.C. ahead for the final time.
The Titans extended their lead at the foul line, and Phoebus couldn’t convert on several good looks down the stretch.
“It was just defense,” Pullen said. “We’ve been talking about that all year, and in the fourth quarter all year, we’ve been stressing on that and trying to make that a point.”
Stitt 10, Key 9, Daniel 8, Williams 8, Fletcher 7, Edwards 5, Deloatch 4
Pullen 15, Byrd 13, Huggins 10, Kerman 6, Mathews 6, Driver 4, Moss 2, Sitton 2.
Phoebus 9 13 13 16 – 51
T.C. Williams 7 15 15 21 – 58
3-Point Goals— P 3 (Daniel 2, Fletcher), TC 0. Fouled Out— P (Daniel, Key).