Words were hard to come by after a last-second, last-gasp shot by West Potomac fell through the hoop to cement T.C. Williams' first loss of the season.
“It's frustrating,” said a shaken Landon Moss, the Titans' 6-foot-5 small forward.
“We got to come back hard,” said a barely audible T.J. Huggins, one of the team's few returning seniors with varsity experience.
“We got our butts kicked tonight,” said coach Julian King.
The Titans, 3-1, are a team known for their slow starts, able to shift into high gear when the moment calls for it — generally well into the second half. Against a 3-1 conference rival, T.C. never quite got their game going. Even in a desperate battle for the lead in the final minutes of play, the Titans fell short in dramatic fashion.
The Wolverines drew first blood, scoring an easy basket in the first minute of play. Though T.C. would match West Potomac several times, they did not see their first lead of the game until more than midway through the third quarter.
“It's frustrating, because we know we're a better team than what showed up,” Moss said afterward. “We didn't come out ready.”
It wasn't the squad's first close game of the season. They narrowly beat Edison Friday, a nail-biter to the very end, and trumped South County with a single-digit lead a day later.
But facing West Potomac, the then undefeated Titans looked something they had not in several years: vulnerable. Wolverines senior forward Bryant Fultz was particularly vexing, making plays out of nothing, seemingly untouchable on the court.
The Wolverines moved – and scored – at will, leaving the Titans playing a catch-as-catch-can style of offense, dependent on fast breaks, lucky steals and the occasional West Potomac miscue. They showed glimmers of stealing the show late in the game: going up on the Wolverines by a single point with 39 seconds left on the clock.
Back on defense, and time running out, the Titans capitalized on a bit of sloppiness on the part of West Potomac to retake possession. Driving down the court to cushion their lead, senior shooting guard Jordan Byrd took a foul.
And that's when things took a turn for the worst for the Titans. Byrd, with a chance to extend T.C.'s lead, missed both free throws. The Wolverines, a good, clean shot short of certain victory, forced their way back. A the seconds clicked off the clock, one shot bounced off the rim, then another, and another, before the ball slipped past the T.C. defenders to the sound of the buzzer.
Final score: West Potomac 51, T.C. 50.
“It was a lack of effort, a lack of intensity and execution,” Moss said. “We've just got to pick it up and get into the right mindset going into [the rest of the season].”
That's the real test, said King. They expected a loss — though not this early in the season — eventually. There's a possibility King's leading men, Huggins, Byrd, Moss, senior Daquan Kerman and newcomer Malik Smith, will learn from this and use it as fuel later in the season. It's just not a sure thing, he said.
“I have to see how my guys respond,” King said.
They’ve got a week to ponder the loss. T.C. takes the court against W.T. Woodson on December 20.