Evan Saunders was facing a crisis in the most crucial of circumstances at Stuart Hall on Thursday.
With his University boys’ basketball team trailing 57-56 in the final minute of regulation, the forward slipped to the basket on an inbounds play and needed only to make an open layup to give the Red Devils the lead.
But suddenly, the weight of the moment and glare of a packed gym’s eyes caused the junior’s arms to go numb.
Saunders missed his first attempt, but responded with determination, grabbing the rebound and willing the ball in with 31 seconds left, providing the winning basket in University’s thrilling 59-57 Bay Counties League West Division win.
"I got the ball and I couldn’t feel my arms," Saunders said with a huge smile. "But I knew I had to find a way to make it. I would have hated myself if I didn’t."
Saunders’ second effort gave the Red Devils (12-3, 2-0 BCL West) a 58-57 lead and University held on through a frantic final 30 seconds in which the Knights had three chances to go in front. Stuart Hall (11-3, 0-1) turned the ball over twice and, after University point guard Shimon Lin made one of two free-throw attempts, Winslow Hines’ 3-pointer from beyond halfcourt hit the backboard and bounced harmlessly away.
The victory was especially sweet, considering the Red Devils lost twice to Stuart Hall by a combined 11 points.
"That was the best game I’ve ever played in," Saunders said. "We’ve been looking forward to this game all year and we’re glad to win it."
The inside move from Saunders may have surprised the Knights, considering how heavily the Red Devils had relied on outside shooting to that point. University hit nine 3-pointers throughout the first three quarters and took a 53-48 lead into the final period.
But at the start of the fourth quarter, the Red Devils went ice cold and Stuart Hall used a 9-0 spurt to take a 57-53 lead.
Thomas Bosc responded with a 3-pointer for University, setting up the late-game dramatics.
"Sometimes you live by the three and you die by the three," said University’s Brian Park, who hit four 3s and scored a game-high 19 points.
"We had to rely on our defense to come through in the end."
Stephen Powell led Stuart Hall with 16 points and seven assists, including 10 points in a wild first half that featured three ties and seven lead changes. The Knights had a 36-32 halftime lead, but University went on an 8-0 run to start the second half to go up 40-36.
Neither team led by more than six points all game.
"Our kids played with a lot of heart and it was a great game," Stuart Hall coach Charles Johnson said. "They’re a great team and they shot the heck out of the ball tonight."
Lowell 67, Marshall 27
Ashley Ong scored eight points, leading 12 Lowell players who scored, as the Cardinals (16-1,
2-0) beat the host Phoenix (0-4,
0-1) in Academic Athletic Association league play.
The Cardinals nailed nine 3-pointers, including five straight to open the third quarter, to cruise to their second straight league win. Marshall was led by Christina Hom and Evelyn Bellinger, who had 13 and 12 points respectively.
— Will Reisman
St. Ignatius 71, Notre Dame (Belmont) 46
Nicole Canepa had 18 points and 11 rebounds as the host Irish (9-2,
1-0) used a big second quarter to break away from the Tigers (6-6, 0-1) in a West Catholic Athletic League game.
Addie Schivo added 16 points, Maggie McCarthy had 13 and Brittney Blythe 12 for SI. Blythe helped break the game open by hitting three of her four 3-pointers in the second quarter, when the Irish outscored Notre Dame 19-7.
— Staff report
Sacred Heart Cathedral 69, Sacred Heart Prep 27
ATHERTON — Jazmine Jackson scored 17 points to help the Irish (9-1, 1-0) cruise past the host Gators (8-5, 0-1) as West Catholic Athletic League girls’ play tipped off.
Lauren Bell chipped in 13 points and Tierra Rogers added 12 for Sacred Heart Cathedral.
— Staff report