At halftime, The News Tribune’s All-State Player of the Year Shaqquan Aaron didn’t like the way the 3A boys state championship game was going.
His Rainier Beach Vikings were trailing the Eastside Catholic Crusaders, 26-21.
Aaron wasn’t helping much on offense — he was 1-for-7 from the floor. But the Louisville commit responded the way great players do.
Aaron scored 16 points in the second half — including nine of the Vikings’ first 10 — and Rainier Beach prevailed with a 47-45 victory over Eastside Catholic to win an unprecedented third consecutive 3A state title.
“He’s a really good player,” said Crusaders coach Bill Liley. “He wasn’t going to sit around and take a loss.”
The Vikings will take their 29-0 record and No. 2 national ranking to the 2014 Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament, which will be played April 3-5 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
While many observers thought Rainier Beach would coast to victory, Saturday’s game was anything but easy. Eastside Catholic played strong team defense, preventing the Vikings from turning the game into a track meet.
Crusaders guard Mandrell Worthy scored 21 points, including a pull-up jumper to tie the game at 43 with 2 minutes, 39 seconds to play.
Rainier Beach forward Djuan Piper cut to the basket from the high post for a layup to put the Vikings back on top, but Eastside Catholic tied the game at 45 when Matisse Thybulle scored off a backdoor pass.
Rainier Beach let the clock run until there were 10 seconds remaining before springing into action. Piper received a pass and hit a turnaround 12-footer over Ian Christie to give the Vikings a 47-45 lead.
There was contact on the play, with Christie hitting the floor, and Liley didn’t like that the referees’ whistles stayed silent.
“I think my kid took a charge there,” said Liley. “I can’t wait to see the video.”
The big surprise was that Aaron, who led all scorers with 22 points, didn’t take the last shot.
“They thought I was going to take the shot,” said Aaron. “I told Djuan to be ready to catch the ball, be ready to shoot. He caught it, and he hit it.”
Piper was calm and collected as he made his move.
“I jab-stepped, he went down, I shot the ball and it went in,” said Piper, who had only two field goals in the game — both in the final minute.
Eastside Catholic (23-7) had 5.1 seconds to tie or win the game. The Crusaders inbounded the ball to Worthy, but he was stripped and Shadeed Shabazz stole the ball near midcourt to end the game.