Jaden McDaniels and Tari Eason sat next to each other, dejected, on Federal Way High School’s bench.
With less than four minutes to play in their Class 4A state semifinals game against second-seeded Gonzaga Prep, both of Federal Way’s standout players fouled out, which proved the pivotal point in a 61-53 loss Friday night at the Tacoma Dome.
For the third consecutive season the third-seeded Eagles (25-3) will end their season short of winning a coveted state title. And, for the second year in a row, the Bullpups (24-2) are the team that derailed them.
Last year, it was in the title game. This year, in the semifinals.
“It’s hard,” Eason said. “It’s tough.”
Many around the state have suggested that the rematch between these two highly talented programs should have been played in Saturday night’s final.
But, because of how the WIAA’s RPI rankings played out, Federal Way and Gonzaga Prep were slotted on the same side of the 12-team bracket, setting up the semifinals showdown.
Neither team had an in-state loss entering Friday, and Federal Way is the only team from the state ranked in the MaxPreps national poll — checking in at No. 17.
“It felt a lot like the state title game,” Gonzaga Prep junior Liam Lloyd said. “There was a lot of emotion and a lot of energy.”
The game lived up to the statewide hype, and appeared headed for a thrilling finish before McDaniels and Eason were forced to check out early.
In fact, all four of the game’s superstars — McDaniels, Eason, Lloyd and Gonzaga signee Anton Watson — played the final frame with four fouls. But, it was the Eagles who lost their two most crucial players when the game was tied at 51-51.
“I expected all of that,” Watson said. “It was chippy the whole game, and we tried to fight through it the whole time.”
The Eagles were clinging to a three-point lead when Eason, a Garfield transfer who averages 19 points, 11 rebounds per game, was called for his fifth personal.
Watson moved in the paint with Eason at his back, and the Federal Way junior appeared to be flagged for attempting to swat away Watson’s layup attempt — which banked in off of the glass. Watson completed the three-point play to tie the game.
Fifteen seconds later, McDaniels — a five-star forward and the consensus No. 5 player in the country in the 2019 class, who averages 23.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game — was whistled for his fifth trying to pull down an offensive rebound.
“It’s tough, but it’s just part of the game,” Federal Way coach Yattah Reed said.
Gonzaga Prep was in the bonus, and Lloyd scored what eventual became the winning point on the ensuing free throw.
“We were still in the game, it’s just unfortunate we couldn’t make shots or make plays, and they were counter-acting on it by making plays and capitalizing on our mistakes,” Reed said.
The Bullpups closed the game on a 13-2 run, while Federal Way was just 1 of 7 from the floor after McDaniels and Eason left. Bradley Graham scored the lone basket, closing Gonzaga Prep’s lead to 58-53 with 43.5 seconds remaining, but it was too late.
“We stayed aggressive, and I think that’s what won us the game,” Lloyd said.
But, before the untimely fouls, Federal Way had the momentum.
“We did. We definitely did. We for sure did,” Eason said. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t go your way, I guess.”
After Gonzaga Prep jumped out to a 25-10 lead after one quarter — bolstered by four of Lloyd’s five 3-pointers — the Eagles slowly crept back, narrowing the deficit to six points by halftime.
“I was confident that if we could get it to single digits by half, we were still in the game, and the guys did it,” Reed said.
Lloyd picked up all four of his fouls in the opening half, including a technical foul that helped Federal Way cut into the lead at the end of the second quarter, and spent much of the second half on the bench.
Watson was called for his third foul midway through the third quarter during 9-2 Eagles run — capped by a McDaniels dunk — that gave Federal Way its first lead with 3:23 left in the period.
The lead exchanged hands four times during the following two minutes before Federal Way regained it for a longer stretch, 44-43, on another McDaniels basket with 1:05 left in the third.
Watson also picked up his fourth foul during that stretch, while McDaniels and Eason each had three at that point. The Eagles had as much as a six-point lead before the pair fouled out.
“I never expected it to get to that point, but we played through it and we got it done,” Lloyd said of the foul trouble on both sides.
Reed said, while he doesn’t necessarily agree with the foul calls, he tried to move on in the game.
“I can’t control that,” he said. “I’ll question it, but I just have to move on. … We just have to make the next play.”
But, unfortunately for Federal Way, it was the Bullpups who made the decisive plays down the stretch.
“They’re just well-coached, they’re seasoned, they have great players and everybody on their team knows their role and (plays) their role well,” Reed said.
“We just made more mistakes than them. And when you’re playing against a good team like (Gonzaga) Prep, you can’t make mistakes.”
Lloyd finished with a game-high 22 points, while Watson added a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds, and had four assists. Jacob Parola chipped in 10 points.
Eason led the Eagles with 19 points — including 15 in the first half — seven boards and four blocks. McDaniels finished with 17 points and nine rebounds.
Gonzaga Prep will meet fifth-seeded Mount Si in Saturday night’s championship game, while Federal Way will play 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict rival Curtis — which the Eagles beat by six points in the bidistrict final in February — for third or fifth place.
“They’re hard on themselves,” Reed said. “I was telling them this loss doesn’t reflect the great season they’ve had this year. We still have another game tomorrow, even though it’s not what we were planning on.
“We still have to play tomorrow and we have an opportunity to take third in state. They’ll be fine.”
NO. 3 FEDERAL WAY
NO. 2 GONZAGA PREP
FW – Shooting: 21 of 56 (37.5 percent). Free throws: 9 of 14 (64.3). Turnovers: 8.
GP – Shooting: 24 of 46 (52.2 percent). Free throws: 7 of 13 (53.8). Turnovers: 8.
FW – Jishai Miller 3, Jaden McDaniels 17, Jalen Womack 9, Bradley Graham 3, Tari Eason 19, Jaylen-Wes Williams 2.
GP – Jacob Parola 10, Carter Sonneborn 9, Liam Lloyd 22, Sheadon Byrd 8, Anton Watson 10, Noah Drynan 2.