Federal Way coach Jerome Collins says his No. 1-ranked team is “too young” to feel any pressure due to hype for big games.
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on the surface, but maybe he’s on to something.
The Eagles played cool, calm and collected on the road in a 77-64 victory over No. 3 Kentwood on Friday night.
Federal Way jumped out to an early lead, let the Conquerors back into it, then pulled away late to improve to 12-1 on the year. Kentwood fell to 12-2.
The 4A South Puget Sound League cross-over game does not count in the division standings. Federal Way is in first place in the Northwest and Kentwood sits atop the Northeast.
Kentwood staked Federal Way to a 9-0 lead to start the game, with the Conquerors turning the ball over five times prior to scoring their first basket of the game. Darius LuBom broke the ice with a driving layup nearly four minutes into the game.
“I thought we did a great job on defense initially: on-ball pressure, the passing lanes — we started well, it got us going,” said Collins.
Leading scorer Viont’e Daniels was bottled up early, so junior guard Ferron Flavors picked up the slack from Federal Way. Flavors scored 10 points in the first quarter and had 15 by the half, finishing the night with 20.
Federal Way led the game wire-to-wire, but Kentwood pulled close multiple times.
The Conquerors appeared to gain some momentum when Malik Sanchez threw down a dunk to make it 26-20 with 2 minutes, 45 seconds to play before halftime, but Federal Way answered with six straight points.
Daniels started to cut loose in the second half. The senior dialed up the aggression, driving to the hoop and ringing up 22 points after the intermission to finish with 31.
“I was trying to figure out how their defense was set up — if they were going to double-team, or if they were going to trap me,” said Daniels. “I ended up finding some seams and getting to the basket.”
When Kentwood senior Marcus LuBom drilled a 3-pointer to cut Federal Way’s lead to three points early in the third quarter, the Eagles responded with an 8-0 run. In the key sequence, D’Jimon Jones was fouled on a 3-point attempt — he made the first two free throws and missed the third, but Federal Way secured the offensive rebound and found Daniels on the right wing for an open 3-pointer.
Kentwood pulled within five points a few more times before falling away once the referees started blowing whistles on every possession. The entire fourth quarter was played at the free-throw line, with no game flow whatsoever. Included was a particularly mind-numbing stretch in which a foul was called on six straight possessions, covering just 62 seconds of game clock.
“It was a hard-fought, physical game,” said Collins, who was particularly proud of how his bench players performed. “Our kids hung in there and concentrated and did the things they had to do.”
That included free throws. Federal Way shot 23 for 34 from the free-throw line for 68 percent. Kentwood was just 15 for 32 on free throws, for 47 percent.