WASHINGTON – The much-anticipated matchup between junior point guards Nate Britt of Gonzaga and Patterson’s Aquille Carr never came to fruition, but the marquee game of Monday’s MLK Hoopfest Showcase still lived up to the hype.
Gonzaga junior forward Kris Jenkins hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift the undefeated Eagles to a thrilling 75-73 victory over the Clippers in front of a packed house at Coolidge High School.
“It felt good when it left my hand,” Jenkins said, “but when I shot it, you know, my heart stopped just like everybody else’s. Then when I saw it go through the rim, that’s when I just knew it was real.”
Jenkins scored 26 points to help lead the Eagles (15-0) back from a 17-point deficit as they struggled early without the North Carolina-bound Britt, who sat out with a calf injury. The dynamic 5-foot-7 Carr scored 20 of his game-high 36 points in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Gonzaga’s comeback victory.
“A basketball game is about runs,” Carr said. “They’re going to have their runs, we’re going to have our runs. They just finished the game with a run, so that’s what happened.”
Although many in attendance came to see Carr and Britt show off, Gonzaga coach Steve Turner wasn’t willing to risk his star’s health for what was essentially a meaningless game. The Eagles have two big Washington Catholic Athletic Conference home games this week against Good Counsel and DeMatha.
“My job is to protect my players,” Turner said. “I wasn’t going to put him out here so everyone could see a one-on-one display – No. 1, even if he had played that wouldn’t have been [the game plan] for us; we’re a team. We’re playing to play Gonzaga vs. Patterson, not Nate Britt vs. Aquille Carr.”
Gonzaga junior guard Tavon Blackmon said the team found out Monday morning that Britt wouldn’t be playing.
“It was different, because he controls the ball and he controls the tempo,” Blackmon said. “Everybody just plays off of him and we make plays off of Nate. So today was kind of an adjustment, but everybody adjusted well.”
They didn’t adjust quickly, though. The Clippers (8-5) raced out to a 29-14 lead after one quarter and were up 42-32 at the break.
The Eagles didn’t take their first lead Monday until junior guard Charles Glover made two free throws to put them ahead 67-66 with 1:39 remaining in the game. Senior guard Mark Mack made two more foul shots to put Gonzaga up by three points, but Patterson stormed back behind Carr.
Carr made two free throws with 24 seconds left to give Patterson a 73-72 lead. The Eagles held the ball for the final shot, which looked like it was going to be a 3-pointer by Glover that hit the front of the rim. Gonzaga senior forward Will Rassman alertly batted the ball back out behind the 3-point line with three seconds to go, though, and Jenkins caught it and smoothly fired a shot that swished through the net as the gym erupted.
“I knew there couldn’t be a lot of time – I thought anywhere from five seconds and under,” Rassman said. “But they didn’t box me out, so I just tried to tip it out and get it out to one of the guards. But Kris caught it, he shot and when I’m looking at it going through the air, I’m just hoping it goes in. It was a great shot. He’s a big-time player, and that’s a big-time shot.”
The defeat stunned the Clippers, with Carr walking off to the side of the court with the game ball while the Eagles celebrated on the opposite end.
“I thought the clock would have run out already,” Carr said. “Then I was thinking their coach called a timeout, but I guess [the refs] didn’t even see that. I thought we were going to get the rebound.”
“I’m speechless right now. I really don’t know what happened. You can’t leave the shooter, so we’ve just got to watch the game over and see what happened.”
The win was the latest in a string of rallies for Gonzaga.
“A lot of games this year we’ve been down, but we usually pick it up,” Blackmon said. “We haven’t been down 17, but we’ve been down 10 – double digits – but we always fight back. We play our style of basketball and it gets us back n the game every time.”
COOLIDGE 62, PHOEBUS (VA) 58: The host Colts (14-4) raced out to a quick lead and never looked back as they beat Phoebus.
Junior Deshaun Morman (22 points), senior Khalen Cumberlander (19) and junior Jade’ Dade (10) all scored in double figures for Coolidge, which seemed to get addition energy boost from playing on its home floor in a game televised by Comcast.
“Yeah, it made it real special,” Cumberlander said. “This is the first time Coolidge has been on TV, so that made it real special. I just came of put on a show, and that’s what I did. I just came to play. I was real anxious about it; I’ve been thinking about it all week.”
The television game was the latest step in the continued growth of the Coolidge basketball program under coach Vaughn Jones.
“Obviously playing at DeMatha, I know what’s its like to be a No. 1 type of team and always the center of attention,” Jones said, “but I think as far as a public school, Coolidge, were getting there. I think our name is building, I think people respect our style of play and who we are. So I think these guys rally enjoy the travelling and just the atmosphere of good high school basketball.”
Junior guard James Daniel scored 16 point to lead the Phantoms (9-5), while senior swingman Darnell Glover added 12 and junior guard Khaaliq Fletcher added 10. Junior forward Troy Williams finished with six points.
The Central Connecticut State-bound Cumberlander and Jones both said they feel the Colts are heading in the right direction, and hope to make a run at the DCIAA title this season.
“I think we’re getting there,” Coolidge coach Vaughn Jones said. “I mean, this was a good indicator – one of those games that to a degree that kind of make or break your season – and I think beating a tough team like Phoebus, I think its going to springboard us the rest of the way. And I think it sends a message to the rest of the teams in the league that we can be really good.”
I.C. NORCOM (VA) 55, NOTH POINT 54: The Greyhounds and Eagles turned in the most exciting of the early games, going wire to wire with Norcom holding on as North Point junior guard Marquis Wright’s off-balance jumper missed as time expired.
It was one of the few misses for Wright, who almost singlehandedly kept the Eagles close most of the game. He finished with a team-high 18 points, while junior Naim Muhammad added 15.
Junior guard Malique Trent scored a game-high 22 points for Norcom, while senior forward Mark Minggia had 14.
North Point trailed by two late when junior forward Matt Bonds stepped to the free throw line for two shots. He made the first but missed the second, give Norcom the ball. The Eagles eventually got the ball back, and called a timeout with nine seconds remaining to set up the final shot. Tre Mouton inbounded to Bonds, who gave the ball to Wright in front of the North Point bench. Wright dribbled around to his right, temporarily lost control of the ball and put up a 3-pointer that sailed long as the buzzer sounded.
SIDWELL FRIENDS 57, T.C. WILLIAMS 52: Junior star guard Josh Hart scored 20 points to lead the Quakers to victory in the day’s opening game.
The Quakers built a fairly comfortable lead late, and sealed the win at the free throw line to turn back T.C. Williams’ comeback attempt.
Junior forward Landon Mass scored 17 points for the Titans while senior guard Jordan Byrd added 16.