By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
With just 3.8 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, senior guard Tavaris James stood at the free throw line for two shots with the T.C. Williams boys basketball team up 61-60 over South County and trying desperately to hold on for another victory.
Missed shots would give the Stallions the final possession of the game and the chance to go ahead once again, having led for the majority of the game but unable to put the Titans away.
Under the pressure of a tight score and with fans of both sides on the edges of their seats, James easily made both free throws to give the home side a 63-60 victory and what is now a four-game winning streak despite a lengthy break for snow that forced the cancellation or postponement of several games. The Titans now are 9-6 overall.
“I just block out everything,” James said. “Every day in practice, that’s the main thing I work on: free throws. The ball is in my hands most of the time, so most likely in the last second it’ll be me or Jordan [Jones] with the ball in our hands shooting free throws.”
Late game free throw shooting was the difference for T.C., with Jones knocking down three with 2:28 left in regulation and then both James and junior forward Fahmmi Mamo going a combined 6-6 from the charity stripe. South County stayed close on the back of some solid shooting from the line by Chuchu Enechionyia, but James’ late intervention made all the difference.
“We work on situations in practice every day,” said T.C. head coach Bryan Hill. “We work on being up 3 [points] with two minutes to go, down 1 with 30 seconds, with this many fouls and that type of deal. We do that every day to get the process on that level that we’re not just running up and down the court, we’re actually really practicing to try to win the games and engineer the victories.”
Having ended the first quarter with a 12-10 lead, the Titans had some issues against a physical Stallions team that began to dominate in the paint and made some tough shots from 3-point range. But while the visitors led by as many as 8 points in the second quarter, two made free throws by Gabriel Harold and a 3-point shot from Jones brought the score to 29-26 at halftime in favor of South County.
After the break, the teams traded buckets on five consecutive possessions as offensive play dominated, as the Titans’ defense tried to solve the physical post play of Enechionyia. But the home side came into its own in the fourth quarter, first regaining the lead with 5:44 remaining in the game, although South County came back to lead by as many as 4 points before James, Jones and Mammo intervened.
James led all T.C. scorers with 17 points and went 6-8 from the line, while Jones tallied 16 points. Mammo added 8 points and gathered 10 rebounds. Enechionyia had 14 points and 7 boards for the Stallions.
“I felt that we really, really took the time to play the game the right way,” Hill said. “I’ve shared with our guys that we have to play chess and not checkers, and so when you have a close game like that, you’ve got to knock down your free throws, you’ve got to treasure your possession and you’ve got to really work on executing what we work on in practice.”
The win over South County came just one day after a 62-58 win over Lake Braddock at home, which was the Titans’ first game back after their blizzard-enforced hiatus. Being inside with few opportunities to practice and play was tough for T.C., but after what Hill described as a “brisk” first practice back, the players felt they regained their poise and stride.
“I just stayed in the house and watched TV and ate snacks [during the storm],” Jones said. “I wasn’t eating healthy, but then when I got in the gym and put up some shots and ate right, I felt good when we came back and played.”
“[The snow] was tough, but I went outside the last couple of days and played basketball and got a little workout in,” James said. “As soon as it started snowing, I didn’t really do anything. I did a little exercise in the house, but not anything major.”
The Titans’ hectic late season schedule, which will see them play five regular season games in the span of nine days, continues Friday away against West Springfield, who were 13-1 overall at the time of writing. With the possibility of postseason play on the horizon, Hill said he is working hard with his players to play intelligently and not just rely on raw ability.
“Gone are the days where T.C. Williams just has all this superior talent and we’re just thrashing people and can run up and down and not be frugal with the basketball,” Hill said. “We’re working on getting that mystique back, where people already know it’s going to be a battle because they came over here.”