By Kevin Phillips
COLORA–West Nottingham Academy found itself trailing by a point late in the fourth quarter after its 10-point lead to start the final quarter vanished against visiting Tri-State Christian Academy in a late-season Mid-Atlantic Independent League boys’ basketball contest Thursday evening.
The Rams regained their composure and switched their defense, and that paid off as they scored 12 points in the last 2:45 of the contest to rally past the Crusaders to earn a 65-62 victory.
“Coach [Aaron Byrd] told us to stay composed. We shook the defense a little bit,” West Nottingham’s Keshawn Gardner said. “That gave us a little momentum change.We did a great job overall and 44 [Tolu Semowo] did a great job rebounding, blocking shots and defending. We were trying to play the best basketball we can play.”
The Rams started the fourth quarter with a 50-40 lead, but Tri-State opened the final frame with a 14-3 surge and took the lead for the first time since the second quarter when Jonte Jenson made a layup to make it 54-53 with 3:12 remaining.
That lead was short-lived, however, as Gonzalo Lominchar Sanchez hit a three-pointer with 2:45 remaining to give West Nottingham a 56-54 lead, and the Rams kept the Crusaders at bay for the remainder of the game as they made 7-10 free throws down the stretch.
Those ten free throw attempts in the final minutes were a part of a game-long trend as West Nottingham attempted 24 free throws for the game, and that was a result of the team playing more aggressively than it did in a 71-57 loss in its previous game against Tri-State on January 31.
“Before the game, our coach said attacking would be the key to winning because in the first game we played them, we didn’t do that,” Gardner, who had a game-high 30 points, said. “We were shooting and not getting to the basket. We went back and watched film and saw that we could attack.”
Those free-throw opportunities turned out to be the difference in the game as the Rams had 19 more free throws than the Crusaders, who went 0-5 from the line, and head coach Bill Smith said his team had an over-reliance on three-pointers against West Nottingham.
“We tend to live by the three, and we die by the three. The middle was wide open, and we begged the guys to get inside to score,” Smith said. “They weren’t doing it. We died by the three tonight.”
Semowo had 19 points to help West Nottingham’s cause. Tri-State, who lost for the first time against in-county opponents this season, got 16 points from Sam Falko, 13 from Jeremiah Falko, 11 from Jenson and 10 from Kyle Rogers.