By Drew Goodman / Scrimmageplaycva.com contributor
Because so many critical games come down to the very last play, most basketball teams at every level have at least one play in their arsenal requiring them to travel the length of the court and score in just a matter of seconds.
In the case of the Albemarle boys, the Patriots had replicated Duke’s famous 1992 NCAA National Semifinal game-winning play numerous times in practice, with senior guard J’Quan Anderson playing the part of Christian Laettner.
In Friday night’s Holiday Hoops Classic Championship game with St. Anne’s Belfield at Western Albemarle, Albemarle had the perfect opportunity to put their precise plan into action.
Trailing by a point with 4.3 seconds remaining in regulation, senior Kaysean Allen attempted to inbound the ball, and looked in Anderson’s direction.
But the STAB defense swarmed the Patriots’ leading scorer and Anderson was not open.
Instead, Allen found an eager Maxx Jarmon, and the explosive senior needed all 4.3 ticks to drive the length of the floor and lay the ball off of his fingertips to seal the game-winning bucket.
“Coach [Greg Maynard] said four seconds is a lot of time; I tried to keep that in my head, so I was running and tried to get as close to the basket as possible,” said Jarmon of the game-winning layup. “I couldn’t believe it really.”
The buzzer-beater capped an improbable Albemarle comeback, as the Patriots rallied from down 12 points at the end of the third quarter to claim an 88-87 triumph over the Saints.
Albemarle (10-0) trailed for the majority of contest and by as many as 16 in the fourth quarter, before battling back to bring home the tournament title for the third consecutive season.
Jarmon notched 26 points on the night, including the game-winner and a huge three-pointer with 1:04 reaming, which gave Albemarle its first lead since the opening quarter.
The senior swingman was named the tournament MVP for his stellar play throughout the three-day event.
Jarmon made the final bucket, but Anderson led Albemarle with 28 points, and played a huge role in erasing what looked like an insurmountable deficit late.
Instead of panicking and launching contested three-pointers out of desperation, Anderson began to drive to the basket on seemingly every Albemarle possession to draw a foul for roughly three minutes of basketball time in the fourth quarter.
The plan worked to near perfection, as the Patriots slowly chipped away at the deficit, one possession at a time. Anderson tallied the majority of his 28 points in the final eight minutes, all in the face of heavy pressure and contact on his drives to the basket.
“If it’s like the third or fourth quarter and we’re down, I want the ball,” Anderson said. “Coach Maynard knows what I’m capable of, my teammates know what I’m capable of, and the crowd knows what I’m capable of. In crunch time, I’m in that Mamba mentality… when we’re down, I just want the ball in my hands.”
Anderson’s 27th and 28th points of the night came at a crucial time, as the senior quickly answered a Nick Reese bucket with a running layup, to give Albemarle an 86-85 advantage with 15 seconds remaining.
Unfortunately for Anderson, a familiar foe denied the multi-sport athlete a chance to be the hero.
Rather than taking a timeout, STAB head coach Brian Kent entrusted Anderson’s long-time friend and now-opponent Mesiah Woods, who Anderson and several other Albemarle players have played with and against on the travel circuit for years, to drive down the lane to retake the lead for the Saints.
Not being phased by the play at the other end, Woods buried a mid-range jumper to give STAB the lead once more with 4.3 seconds left on the clock.
“[Woods] is so dynamic in the open court; we kind of said, ‘should we call a timeout?’ And we said, ‘No let’s let him do his thing,’” STAB assistant coach Damin Altizer said of the late game strategy. “He got all the way to 10 feet, pulled up, and made the shot. You can’t draw up anything better than that, other than maybe what [Albemarle] did.”
Woods, who had an up-and-down game against Western less than 24 hours earlier, dazzled the crowd in Crozet with his quick drives and precision from the three-point line.
The five-foot-nine junior was the smallest player on the court, but Woods never shied away from taking a tough shot or coming up big from the charity stripe. Woods knocked down a pair of clutch free throws with under a minute to play, which trimmed the Albemarle lead to just one, and set the table for four lead changes in the final 18 seconds in the contest.
“[Woods] is like my brother, so playing against him is a good test for me,” Anderson said. “Mesiah is a great player… Playing against good competition is making me better as well, so playing in this environment with all of these people and playing against a great team like STAB, and coach Kent, who has a great program, this is just a great victory.”
Woods’ shot sailed over a pair of AHS defenders, including Anderson, but the junior left the Patriots with just enough time to escape with the win.
In addition to Woods, three other Saints scored in double figures, including Reese, who racked up 18 points on the evening. Junior guard Dalton Taylor had a huge second half for STAB and finished with 16 points, while Myles Ward added 12.
On the other side, Na’il Arnold, who played nearly the entire last quarter with four fouls, came up big on both ends and poured on 14 points. In addition to his game-winning assist, Allen tailed 11 points, including a momentum-shifting three-pointer with 3:18 left in the game. Allen’s clutch triple trimmed the deficit to just four and capped a thrilling 16-4 AHS run.
Though his team has not even finished the first round of district play and the season is still young, Maynard always puts a special emphasis on the holiday classic and what it means to not only his family, but to the Albemarle program historically.
“It’s a special place in my heart because I’ve been coaching in it for 25 years or whatever it is,” Maynard said. “It’s just great competition; the holiday season when a lot of people are in town who were your fans when they were in school and it’s just a lot of fun. Basketball-wise, it’s one of my favorite times of the year.”