The old Indian Creek, the one that started the season with eight losses and one win, probably wouldn’t have survived this game.
“In December, if we turned the ball over, it would snowball. All of sudden we’d lose our confidence,” Eagles coach Josh Pratt said. “Now, we’ve been in so many situations where it doesn’t faze them. Like Khiyon.”
Every lesson learned flowed in junior Khiyon Washington (nine points) as he cut and dodged through the Severn defense trying to stop the incredible from happening. Washington’s feet left the ground; the ball left his fingers. Even though AJ Burch had just unraveled a five-point overtime lead with a free throw, even though the final buzzer was calling, Washington’s shot landed.
The Eagles (14-12) outlasted their county rival Admirals in overtime to keep their playoff hopes alive, 58-57.
Pratt is never emotional, he said, but the fight his team displayed – especially his freshmen – has him overwhelmed with tears as his victors walked by him, celebrating audibly in the locker room. “It’s really good for them. I’m just really proud of them,” Pratt said. “They’re such good kids. For them to step up and play the way they did – I’m usually not like this – they really came together.”
Senior forward Khalil Williams shouldered much of Indian Creek’s offense, mounting 23 points. Pratt can’t believe he has to say goodbye to him when spring comes. “He’s just a pillar, a mainstay,” the coach said. “We’re really going to miss him. He’s come so far in the two years I’ve had him.”
As his high-point total would suggest, Williams was the general of the Eagles’ offensive campaign with eight points in eight minutes. Defensively, too, Williams was at the root of Indian Creek’s early success; Pratt stationed the towering senior up top in the 1-2-2 scheme to corral Severn.
As the first quarter waned, though, the Admirals found leaks. Guards Mo Terry (18 points) and Burch (16 points) peppered three 3-pointers, leading Severn’s rally over their hosts, 15-12, at the buzzer.
The Eagles had to stay diverse in their defense if they wanted to keep the Admirals from getting away. But Burch, as usual, remained strong at the perimeter. After Williams tied things up with a basket, Burch retaliated with a 3-pointer that ensured Severn would ride into halftime with a five-point margin.
It was then that Washington apologized to his coach. “First half, I was missing a lot of shots, not making a lot of shots I usually make,” Washington said. “I just felt like I was letting my team down.” Pratt subbed Washington out. Meanwhile, the Eagles continued to suffer. The defensive intensity that had Indian Creek keeping pace with their rivals in the first half dissipated in the third. Though Terry and Burch continued to put balls in the net, it was Owura Berko (13 points) that shone, opening Severn’s scoring with a jumper and then following it up with a pair from downtown for eight points.
Severn led their hosts by 12, more than once. “In transition, we were missing our man,” Pratt said. “Some of it was combinations. We have a lot of guys who are really good defensive players, maybe better offensive players, but our 1-2-2 broke down, they got easy transition.”
As the third became the fourth, the play on the court evolved into chaos, the ball rattling from hand to hand like it was too hot to touch. Out of that chaos, the Eagles rose from their midgame ashes, whittling the Admirals’ huge lead down to just one point. Severn tried to shake the Eagles, calling three timeouts in 15 game-seconds in an attempt to prevent Indian Creek from retaking possession, but the Eagles managed to get a hold of the ball to expire regulation. And just before then, Washington had earned a chance at the foul line, shooting a free throw that sent Indian Creek to overtime.
“They just keep fighting,” Pratt said. “They keep fighting all year.”
In extra time, Pratt had to flip through defensive schemes like options in a jukebox. Even after freshmen Daniel Ablorh and Logan Harris carved out an Eagles lead, Severn was still finding ways to keep things close. “I play one and Mo gets a wide open three,” Pratt said. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘Why am I going one? The 1-2-2 got us back into the game, then we switched to the man.”
Then, back by one point, Burch hit a free throw – tied – and another. Five seconds remained. Washington hurtled up the court. He didn’t even look at his shot, even as it hit. First, his team crashed into him. Then, the fans washed over them.
“We have something to play for,” Pratt said. “Every game here is a playoff game.” To earn the sixth seed in the postseason, Indian Creek must defeat Friends on Friday, Pratt said. But if the Eagles carry any of Wednesday’s fire into the future, Pratt is confident his team has a very good shot. “We’ve won six out of seven, and it’s a tribute to them,” the coach said. “They’ve been really good at responding during timeouts, and we’ve been playing together. They’re playing like they don’t want their season to end.”This story was originally published in the Capital Gazette News.