Marcus Wells is the kind of kid who keeps his coach up nights.
Not out of worry about what kind of trouble the Lick-Wilmerding senior guard might be getting into, Tigers coach Eliot Smith explained. Smith puts on a late-night pot of coffee and studies extra game film because he doesn’t want to let Wells down.
“The passion and gifts Marcus has motivate you to stay up until midnight making sure you’re doing as much as you can,” Smith said. “And it’s more than the points and the buzzer-beaters. It’s the love he has for the game and his teammates.”
Wells scored a career-best 37 points Wednesday as the sixth-seeded Tigers (23-7) knocked off second-seeded St. Elizabeth of Oakland 55-50 in the North Coast Section Division V semifinals to advance to the section final for the first time in school history.
The Tigers will face top-seeded Branson (26-3) Saturday at 8 p.m. at the College of Marin for the championship, and a school known for the rigors of its academics has suddenly caught basketball fever. Students pack buses to travel with the team and the dean gently reminds teachers about the homework load the night of playoff games.
The day of the St. Elizabeth game, a projector played Lick’s previous four games on loop on one of the walls.
“That’s what I’ll remember most about this year — the big victories, the fans running onto the court and the way the whole school has rallied around us,” Wells said. “I think all of us will think about this group and this run for the rest of our lives.”
The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder will take his game to Williams (Mass.) this fall, though the focus now is prolonging the time this team has together for as long as possible. In fact, something Wells said before the St. Elizabeth game sticks with Smith almost as much as the 37 points. Reserve forward Josh Herzstein was sick and couldn’t make the trip and Wells made a point of reminding the team it needed to win to allow the senior another week of basketball.
“If we lost, Josh’s last game ever would have been the [quarterfinal win over Berean Christian],” Wells said. “That’s why that win was so important.”
Wells is averaging 19 points per game this year despite fighting off injuries for much of the season and missing 10 games. His all-around game was on display during a three-game run to the Bay Counties League West tournament title. He had 21 points in a quarterfinal win over Urban before dishing off to Matt Wittlin for two 3-pointers in crunch time, scored 20 of his 31 points in the second half in a 55-44 upset win over University in semifinals, then made a few key defensive plays down the stretch in a 48-47 victory over Marin Academy in the title game.
“There’s no big ego on this team — it’s about the group, not the parts,” Wells said. “So I just try to fill in wherever I can and hopefully will myself and the team to a win.”