What a stage.
What a team — that Nathan Hale High School boys basketball team coached by former NBA All-Star Brandon Roy.
And what a player — 6-foot-9 senior and University of Washington signee Michael Porter Jr.
Lincoln looked outmatched in height, size and hype, but there was no fear of matching up with undefeated Nathan Hale in the Tacoma Dome in the 3A state semifinals on Friday.
“That’s the basketball you play for,” Lincoln junior guard Trevante Anderson said. “That’s the basketball everybody plays for. All the training, all the offseason work — it’s to get to these moments.”
The final score, an 84-60 victory for the top-ranked team in the nation against previously undefeated Lincoln, might not indicate it, but the Abes hung for three quarters with one of the most talented teams in state history and with one of the most talented players in state history.
Lincoln trailed by six points at the end of the first quarter. It trailed by eight at halftime and it was behind 58-46 entering the final period.
Abes coach Aubrey Shelton gazed into the expansive crowd in front of him, seemingly packed to the second deck, a few times during this game.
“We totally believed until the very end — we thought we had a chance,” Shelton said. “We play them a few more times there’s a chance we get them.
“You don’t have to play perfect to beat them, but you have to play well. I thought we played OK defensively, and at times great defensively, but offensively I think we struggled.”
Anderson helped Lincoln keep pace.
Porter had three vicious dunks in the first half and finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds. And Nathan Hale sophomore guard PJ Fuller — who scored a game-high 29 points — made 11 of 13 shots, even though most of those seemed contested.
But Lincoln kept punching back. Anderson scored 13 of his 20 points in the first half, making 5 of 7 shots. He also finished with 13 rebounds.
“He’s a good guard,” said Nathan Hale coach Brandon Roy, the former NBA standout with the Portland Trail Blazers and a star for UW. “He’s a tough cover. But playing in the Metro, we get to see those types of guards. He’s sitting right there on the level of those guys. So we didn’t want to panic.”
Porter looked as if he was mechanically generated to dominate high school basketball. His stoic expression hardly changed, he rocked the crowd with dunks and blocks out of bounds. He came to Nathan Hale after transferring from Columbia, Missouri, when his father was hired as an assistant coach at UW.
“I’ve never seen a player like this when I played or ever,” Roy said. “And I’ve been here for a while. He’s the best player I’ve ever seen, and for good reason. I watch him every day.
“He’s an unbelievable talent, and I want to make sure he has a coach who does everything he can to make sure these are memories he has for a long time. He’ll be a professional. We want him to have these moments and win a state championship.”
And Shelton was certainly impressed, too.
“He can do everything, right?” Shelton said. “He can shoot, he can pass, he can dribble. He’s so long and athletic. He’s going to be the No. 1 pick in a couple of years. It will be a good story we can tell future guys — ‘Hey, we battled him at the Dome.’ ”
But Lincoln, with its 26-0 record on the line, wasn’t backing down.
Nathan Hale (28-0) pushed its lead to 52-39 in the third quarter. But David Harris and Cameron Deloney — two of Lincoln’s four seniors — hit back-to-back buckets, and Emmett Linton — who scored 15 points — hit a 3-pointer to cut the Abes’ deficit. the lead to eight entering the final period.
It was the same, scrappy play Lincoln has played all season — despite not having a player taller than 6-foot-6 (Willie Thomas) and one starting senior (Harris). Nathan Hale has two 6-foot-9 players (Porter and his brother, Jontay Porter).
But foul trouble, free throws and Nathan Hale’s length wore on the Abes. The Raiders used a 16-6 run to put Lincoln away for good, and for the game they made 30 of 39 free throws.
“We were looking forward the past couple of weeks of the potential of what if we play Nathan Hale in the Dome,” Shelton said. “What if we’re still undefeated? That place would be so full and it was. … I couldn’t even see my family it was so deep.”
For Roy, he said it was long-awaited payback.
Lincoln ended his own state title hopes when he was a player at Garfield in 2002, with the Abes winning 67-48 in the state quarterfinals that year — when Shelton was the Abes’ standout post player. In Roy’s junior season, his Bulldogs lost to Foss in the first round, 85-82.
“I told the guys that 15 years ago Lincoln bounced me out,” Roy said. “So they owed me. They had to help me get them back. It took a while, but we finally got them back.”
And he said those games were far more packed than this one was.
“They asked me how they looked when I played — and the seats were full,” Roy said. “We wer Garfield and we played Foss (in the first round in 2001) and they were good. We played Lincoln (in 2002). Those crowds were packed. This was good, but ours were much better.”
Lincoln gets one more game. The Abes play at 1 p.m. Saturday with the winner earning a state third-place trophy.
“I don’t think the stage was too big,” Shelton said. “I’m proud of their effort. They get to come back tomorrow and play for a state trophy. And if we win tomorrow we get to say we’re 27-1 and our loss was to the No. 1 team in the nation — and that would be a really special thing to say.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
NO. 3 LINCOLN
NO. 1 NATHAN HALE
L: Anderson 20, Linton 15, Bonds 4, Thomas 7, Deloney 2, Braggs 2, D. Dillingham 1, J. Dillingham 2, Harris 7
NH: M. Porter 27, Fuller 29, J. Porter 6, Holland 16, Williams 4, Crosby 2.