The two teams in the first game of the 2016 boys’ State 2B basketball tournament at the Spokane Arena had combined for 12 B tournament titles.
So it’s little surprise Morton-White Pass, the 2B two-time defending champions, and Northwest Christian, this season’s Northeast 2B champions, played a state-title-worthy game Thursday.
Though only one team made its free throws down the stretch. And that was the difference in the NWC Crusaders’ 59-54 victory.
“We’ve shot free throws well all year,” said NWC coach Ray Ricks, who has guided the Crusaders to five of their seven titles, “but the reality is we haven’t been in many close games.”
This was that.
Northwest Christian led by eight early, but Morton-White Pass led by four at halftime.
NWC led by three early in the fourth, but when senior Kaleb Poquette drove and was fouled with less than 4 minutes left, Morton-White Pass (24-3) led 52-51.
Poquette, making his fourth appearance in Spokane, missed the ensuing free throw and the storyline was set.
As Ricks said, “shooting under pressure versus just shooting free throws, it’s different.”
Poquette finished with 15 points, second for MWP to his sophomore brother, Matthew, who had 16. The elder Poquette also had four free throws in the last 98 seconds. He made just one.
On the other end the Crusaders (24-2) were nearly flawless. They regained the lead with a layup by Nathan Sanders and a drive from Ian Starkey, who also had the unenviable task of guarding Poquette in the second half.
Then the Timberwolves began missing free throws and Ryan Ricks and David Olds didn’t. The two combined for four in as many chances, Poquette couldn’t get two shots to fall, and NWC moved on.
When Ricks headed out to shoot a second free throw with 20 seconds left and the Crusaders clinging to a two-point lead, he almost danced to the line. There was a reason.
“Mom and dad have been telling me for years when you get to State, there are going to be those free throws that make or break the game,” the junior said. “It’s finally happening (for me). I finally get this opportunity. Even if I miss, I got the opportunity.”
He didn’t miss. Though he did often from the floor, hitting just 4 of 14 shots. But he also split 30 points with fellow junior Asher Cox as the Crusaders had four players in double figures.
And Ricks hit those clutch free throws.
NWC’s two losses came to larger schools, Coeur d’Alene and Pullman. The Crusaders entered the 2B tournament 8-0 against teams still competing at a state tournament, either in Washington or Idaho.
Tonight the Crusaders get top-ranked Brewster, an 89-47 winner Thursday over St. George’s, in one semifinal. Last year the two met on the final day, both coming off semifinal losses. Brewster won, 78-49. The Crusaders remember.
“We lost to Morton last year, too,” Ryan Ricks said. “We’re level-headed about (Thursday’s win). We can celebrate for now, but we’re getting ready (for Brewster) almost immediately.”
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