When experience matters most in close games, the veteran King’s Way Christian boys basketball team has plenty to draw from.
Despite trailing Seton Catholic for much of the second half and overtime Thursday in the Cougars’ packed gymnasium, the Knights delivered the most consequential plays with the game on the line.
Senior Giovanny Evanson’s go-ahead 3-pointer with less than two minutes left in the extra period put the Knights up 46-45, a slim lead they held on to until the final buzzer.
Seton Catholic’s final shot — following an inbounds pass from the far end with 3.5 seconds left — bounced off the backboard as the clock expired. The Knights and their student section stormed the court to celebrate the Trico League win over their rivals.
“One big thing our coach (Daven Harmeling) says is ‘weathering the storm,’ which means no matter what happens emotional-wise, we just have to stay on a straight line and (persevere),” said Evanson, who led the Knights with 23 points. “Even though they may go on runs, we have to fight back and go on runs too.”
Seton Catholic led by as many as six points in the third quarter, but the Knights started to heat up early in the fourth with back-to-back 3-pointers from senior Jamison Duke and Evanson to give King’s Way a 36-35 lead. Another Evanson 3 pushed the margin to four points.
Seton Catholic, however, rallied to tie the game at the 1-minute mark on a back-door cut and layup from sophomore Brady Angelo, before sophomore Rico George hit a go-ahead runner and King’s Way returned the favor with a game-tying Matthew Belefski layup.
George, who led Seton Catholic with 17 points, also gave the Cougars the first points of overtime on a steal and layup just 20 seconds into the four-minute period. They were held scoreless the rest of the way.
“I don’t think I can say we really started to execute or necessarily do anything better, but the unity piece and I think some of the experience of these guys being in these type of games before showed up,” Harmeling said. “Early on in the year, honestly, we got really fragmented when times got hard. I thought that they stayed calm, didn’t panic and as the adversity grew, they became closer together, not further apart.”
The biggest play of the game would not have been possible without the hustle of Belefski, another senior, to buy the Knights an extra possession. After Seton Catholic grabbed a rebound from a King’s Way miss, Belefski swooped in for a steal and drew a foul against the Cougars.
The ensuing inbounds pass eventually found its way to Evanson on the left elbow, where he took a couple dribbles and pulled up for the 3-pointer that gave the Knights the lead for good.
For now, at least, King’s Way (7-7, 3-1) still has the upper hand in the Trico League with three straight wins (Stevenson, La Center, Seton Catholic) after dropping its opener against Castle Rock.
“It’s a big win for sure,” Evanson said. “Starting off league play with a loss kind of shot us down a little bit, but coming in here and getting the ‘W’ and getting back in first place feels good. But we have a lot of games left and still have a lot of work to do.”
“A lot of games to improve,” Belefski added.
Yet Seton Catholic (9-5, 2-2) appears to be closing the gap in the Trico League. The Cougars led for the more than half of Thursday’s game and the final score was closer than any of their three games against the Knights last season, including a season-ending defeat in the 1A district tournament.
The rematch, in the second-to-last game of the regular season, is scheduled for Feb. 1 at King’s Way.
“We have a ton of respect for Seton Catholic,” Harmeling said. “You saw the environment tonight. … I would say if you were here tonight, you would say that’s about as good of a high school basketball experience and crowd that you get. We appreciate that friendly rivalry we have with Seton and we respect them a ton.”
KING’S WAY CHRISTIAN 46, SETON CATHOLIC 45 (OT)
KING’S WAY CHRISTIAN — Will Bump 2, Jaydon Hall 10, Ryan Tyler 2, Giovanny Evanson 23, Aidan Sweeney 0, Matthew Belefski 4, Jamison Duke 5. Totals 17 (8) 0-4 46.
SETON CATHOLIC — Tyler Tran 0, Ryker Ruelas 0, Brady Angelo 4, Rico George 17, Lance Lee 7, Breckin Miller 3, Jack Jenniges 14. Totals 18 (7) 2-4 45.
King’s Way 13 7 10 13 3—46
Seton 12 13 8 11 2—45
JV — 56-43 King’s Way