With their postseason hopes seemingly hanging in the balance with each remaining game on the schedule, the Mount Tahoma boys basketball team better get accustomed to playing well under pressure.
The Thunderbirds got off on the right foot Wednesday night at Narrows League 3A rival Wilson, making several key plays in crunch time to hold on for a 57-54 victory and a sweep of the season series.
With Timberline’s loss to Foss, Mount Tahoma (10-5 overall, 4-4 Narrows 3A) took over sole possession of third place.
“Every game is huge for us because we dropped one at North Thurston,” Mount Tahoma coach Owen Chambers said. “That’s what put us in this position.”
Trailing 55-54 with eight seconds to go, the Rams (9-8, 3-5) had a chance to steal the game. Wilson freshman guard David Jenkins received the inbounds pass from under the basket and got cut off at the baseline in front of the Mount Tahoma bench by guard Michael Rollins. As Jenkins turned his head to make an outlet pass, Rollins swiped the ball out of his hands and took it in for an easy layup to secure the victory.
“He just put it right there,” said Rollins, who finished with 11 points and four steals, “so I just took it.”
Added Chambers: “The main focus was making sure they don’t get a layup. (Guard) Devion (Hammond) and Michael have been playing together so well, and they saw that opportunity (for a steal) when (Jenkins) dribbled straight to the benches.”
Mount Tahoma, which trailed by nine points at halftime, was a different team in the second half. After scoring just five points in the first half, senior guard Brian Neal changed his sneakers and suddenly couldn’t miss – scoring 17 in the second half to lead all scorers with 22 points.
“It was just a mental change,” Neal said with a grin. “I just wasn’t playing well at all. I was just taking bad shots. I just started running the offense and it developed.”
The Thunderbirds also switched to a zone defense in the third quarter, forcing eight Wilson turnovers to cut the deficit to 39-38 heading into the fourth.
“I told the seniors at halftime if you want to continue playing we’ve got to get this victory,” Chambers said. “They took that challenge, and we went out with some zone and got more aggressive defensively.”
After Montre Brown’s corner 3-pointer put Wilson up 51-45 with 4:17 to go, it was all Mount Tahoma from there. Neal made jumper from the free-throw line to tie it a 52 with 2:31 remaining, and Rollins’ free throw broke the tie with 1:26 to play.
“We just came in here knowing we needed the win so we just had to pull it out,” Neal said. “We did it as a team.”
Haywood Irwin added 15 points for Mount Tahoma, which faces Timberline on Feb. 1 on the road.
Keun Thompson led Wilson with 14 points and nine rebounds; freshman Alphonso Anderson added 11 points.