JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
A year ago, Whitmer s basketball season ended at Central Catholic s Sullivan Center when the Panthers poor free-throw shooting proved costly in a narrow sectional loss to Southview.
Last night, on that same court, the Panthers netted 16 of their 18 foul shots and needed every one of them in squeaking out a 56-54 win over St. Francis in two overtimes in a Division I sectional final.
Whitmer (16-5) will meet Waite (14-6) in Thursday s 8 p.m. district semifinal at Savage Hall. The Indians advanced with a 70-51 victory over Rogers in last night s first sectional final here.
We ve got six seniors that played, and they just didn t want it to end here, Whitmer coach Bruce Smith said. We found another gear. If we played St. Francis 10 times, we d probably split 5-5. It s a very even battle.
The Panthers were led by the inside play of 6-3 senior forward Antwan Willis, who had game highs of 24 points and 16 rebounds battling against the Knights bigger front court, including 6-9 Fahro Alihodzic and 6-10 Storm Stanley.
I just did what I had to do for my team, Willis said. Our slogan is We, not me, and that s what we are. All week, coach has been telling us to stay focused and play through anything, and that s what we did.
Kevin Koger had 10 points and 12 boards for Whitmer, and Jeremy Jones and Ryne Smith added 10 points apiece.
After taking an early 7-0 lead, Whitmer saw St. Francis climb back in and never go away as the game s lead changed hands nine times.
The Panthers, up 25-22 at halftime, maintained a lead until the Knights caught fire at the end of the third quarter. St. Francis (13-7) hit 9-of-10 shots from the field in one stretch to go up 44-40 on Brody Henry s layup with 2:43 left in regulation.
But the Panthers earned ties at 44 and 46, ending regulation on pairs of free throws from Koger, Smith, and then Willis, who converted a bonus chance with 7.7 seconds left to force overtime. With 34.9 seconds left in the first OT, Jeremy Jones hit a pair at the line to tie things at 50-50 and force a second OT.
Willis scored on a putback at 2:44 of the second OT, Smith added a driving layup 27 seconds later, Jones sealed things with two free throws for a 56-52 edge with 9.4 seconds left.
We had some good looks at the end of regulation and the first overtime, Knights coach Nick Lowe said. They were looks that I d take and, if they fall in, it s a whole different ballgame. I think Whitmer made the last positive play of the game. They were 16 of 18 from the foul line. In a tight game like this, that s the difference.
St. Francis, which started and ended its season with losses to Whitmer, was paced by senior Kevin Henry s 21 points and eight rebounds. Moses Ramey added 10 points, and Jarrod Horton nine for the Knights.
In the first semifinal, Waite shook off the early effects of its 10-day layoff since losing to St. John s Jesuit in the City League playoff semifinals.
The Indians fell behind Rogers 14-6 during the first quarter while hitting just two of their first 13 shots.
Waite caught fire midway through the third quarter after going down 32-29 on Rogers freshman guard Damon Powell s 14-footer at the 5:23 mark.
Over the next 3:28, Waite forced seven turnovers during a game-breaking 16-2 run, which was capped on a bucket by guard Dishon Harris for a 45-34 lead with 1:55 left in the third.
That [run] made a big impact, Waite coach Dave Pitsenbarger said. We talked at the beginning of the game that we needed to play at high intensity, and we weren t going 100 percent in the first half. They came out and played with a full team effort in the second half.
The Rams (6-14) got no closer than five points from there as Waite pulled away with a 19-5 surge to close the game.
Brent Meredith topped a balanced Waite effort with 16 points and six rebounds. Khari Riley added 12 points and nine boards, and Hakeem Muhammad (11 points), Harris (10) and Robert Jackson (10) also were in double figures.
We kept telling each other to get our heads focused and get in the game or this is going to be our last game, Meredith said. None of the seniors wanted that, so somehow we found it and started picking it up.
Powell mixed four 3-pointers into his game-high 24 points for Rogers. Dalante Heard added 10 points for the Rams.
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