This win said as much about what the Federal Way High School boys basketball team can accomplish as any.
Leading by just one point in a slugfest of a first half — after winning their previous six games by an average of more than 25 points a game — the normally run-and-gun Eagles had to play tough to win.
They did. No. 1 Federal Way pulled away in the second half for a 78-60 victory over Timberline on Friday at Puyallup High School to survive elimination, advancing past the 4A regional round of the state tournament and to the Tacoma Dome.
“Our backs were against the wall,” Federal Way coach Jerome Collins said. “A true champion rises to the top. And we rose.”
After the Eagles were beat up on the offensive glass by Blazers forward Jarryn Bush, Collins emphasized stopping Timberline’s penetration and not just contesting shots, but contesting while maintaining position for rebounds.
Jalen McDaniels responded. The 6-foot-9 junior scored a game-high 18 points and collected 17 rebounds, most of them when Federal Way ran away in the second half.
“They were killing us on the glass,” McDaniels said. “We all said, ‘We got to step up.’ So I tried to lead my team in rebounds and do everything I could. I was just doing my best to get every rebound.”
He’s shown he’s an athlete before. But the rail-thin kid with braces showed a different facet to his game Friday.
“He’s made tremendous strides,” Collins said. “He’s been a work in progress, but he’s continued to learn and continued to develop. I thought he showed that. He wasn’t doing this at the beginning of the season.”
Timberline (18-8) ends its season one game short of the final eight after winning three of its previous four games just to get into regionals.
“It came down to two things: us missing layups around the basket and us missing free throws,” Timberline coach Allen Thomas said. “Make the layups, make the free throws, and you are going to give yourself an opportunity.”
Timberline took an 18-16 lead early in the second quarter when Bush finished through contact. He finished with 13 points, 11 in the first half.
He missed the free throw, though, and Federal Way responded with a 9-2 run. But Timberline responded right back, getting a fadeaway 3-pointer from freshman guard Erik Stevenson, who scored a team-high 16 points, just before the halftime horn as the Blazers trimmed the Eagles’ lead to 31-30.
Then the third quarter.
Blazers senior guard Brandell Evans went hard to the floor on a shot at the basket and left the game. He returned shortly after, but was hobbling and holding his lower back.
One possession later, he charged to the hoop, finished and put Timberline ahead, 36-35. He scored 13 points.
“What Brandell Evans has done at this school, he’s solidified himself a spot in the school hall of fame,” Thomas said.
But that was the last time the Blazers would lead.
After that, Viont’e Daniels, who scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half, got going, hitting a pair of pull-up jumpers from the elbow. Ferron Flavors drilled a pair of 3-pointers and the Eagles quickly led by double-digits.
Timberline went to the free-throw line enough times to cut the lead back to single digits at 53-44 heading into the fourth quarter.
But Federal Way kept its foot on the pedal: Timoney Buckley made a pair of tough baskets underneath and Daniels followed with 3-pointers on two of the next three possessions as the Eagles extended their lead to 68-53 with less than 3 minutes to play.
Federal Way (24-2) advances to the final eight for the first time since the 2009-10 season, and has yet to a lose to a 4A team this season. The Eagles will find out their next opponent at the Tacoma Dome on Sunday afternoon.
“It was a grind-out,” Collins said. “You can’t control runs because this time of the year there are going to be runs. But like I told them, ‘We have to buckle down and get the job done.’ That’s what I’m most impressed with tonight.”