The fire alarm didn’t go off this time, but Armani Collins made sure that the Stuart Hall boys’ basketball team stayed hot against its archrival Tuesday night.
Collins, a 6-foot-4 senior guard, scored 10 of his game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, including five clutch free throws down the stretch, helping the Knights to a 70-66 home victory against a gritty University team in Bay Counties League West play.
The Knights opened up an early 14-point lead, led 36-24 at halftime and looked well on their way to their 21st win of the season. However, the dogged Red Devils gamely battled back in the second half, opening up the third quarter with 11 consecutive points, eight coming from senior guard Brandon Lew (15 points). When junior Mattie Mrlik hit a spinning flip shot in the lane midway through the third, University suddenly had their first lead of the game, at 43-41, with momentum firmly on their side.
However, Collins hit a huge shot at the buzzer to tie the score 46-46, leading to a back-and-fourth final period. The Knights finally pulled away thanks to the clutch play of Collins, who added two blocks and two difficult layups down the stretch, although the contest wasn’t sealed until he hit one of two fouls shots to put his team up 70-66 with six seconds remaining.
“I knew that University would fight back,” Stuart Hall coach Charley Johnson said. “They’ve got a great club, and they’re a confident group of kids, so we expected that. I didn’t like them coming all the way back, but I knew our guys weren’t going to just quit in their own gym.”
The two teams engaged in a memorable contest on Jan. 13 that was interrupted when the fire alarm system went off at University, forcing both teams to exit the building with the score tied and less than a minute remaining in regulation. After the building was cleared and play resumed, Stuart Hall pulled out a marathon 80-75 victory in double overtime.
With their win on Tuesday night, the Knights (21-2, 7-0 BCL West) opened up a commanding two-game lead in league play over the Red Devils (17-6, 5-2).
Collins showed off all facets of his impressive offensive repertoire in the first quarter, hitting a deep three early, before igniting the crowd with a ferocious follow slam and nailing a fadeaway jumper with five seconds left to put his team up 17-9.
University closed the deficit to five, at 19-14, early in the second quarter, but junior reserve Malik Hale sparked a 10-2 run, hitting two 3-pointers in that span to help stretch the Knights lead to 29-16. Buoyed by a 27-11 rebounding advantage, the Knights looked firmly in control after two quarters, but University never quit, eventually setting the stage for Collins’ late-game heroics.
“I told my guys, ‘Just stay calm, stay poised and we’re going to win the game,’” said Collins, who is receiving interest from several Division I programs. “I know the end of the game is my time to shine, when I need to take it to the next level.”