UPPER MARLBORO – Zaakir Williamson stood under the basket, surrounded by National Christian Academy defenders, as the final seconds of the game ticked away with a chance to become the savior for Rock Creek Christian Academy (RCCA).
After trailing for nearly three quarters, RCCA had tied the game at 61 with three free throws from Milton Matthews. RCCA’s plan for the final possession was simple: crash the inside of the paint and then pitch the ball out to one of its shooters to win or force overtime.
However, it did not happen that way. Instead, Williamson found himself with the ball and NCA players closing in on him.
“Honestly, I thought (Delonnie Hunt) was going to raise up from the floor (and take the shot),” Williamson said. “I was so surprised when he dropped it off to me.”
After almost letting the ball slip from his hands, Williamson worked his way past the NCA players for the go-ahead layup before the buzzer sounded. The players on the RCCA bench took the floor in celebration, fans rose to their feet and cheered and RCCA walked away with a 63-61 win on Feb. 15.
“We weren’t really out of it,” Matthews said. “We’ve been in situations like this. So we just kept our heads and kept playing.”
Since the season began at the start of December, RCCA (16-8, 6-1) has been in nine games that were decided by five points or fewer. RCCA has fared well in those games with a record of 6-3, winning three of its last four in the past month.
Playing in those games gave head coach Lafayette Dublin confidence that his players would not lose their composure.
“We’ve battled the best in the country, so we’ve seen every situation,” Dublin said. “At this point, we’re starting to gel. I just told them to stick with it.”
Williamson had scored just three points before his game-winning shot, and he had bobbled the ball in similar situations throughout the night. But unlike those previous plays, Williamson’s final shot went through the net, which Dublin was happy to see.
“I’m glad he stuck with it,” Dublin said of Williamson. “Trust your body, trust your size. In the worst case…it’s a foul. I’m just glad he got a shot up. A lot of teams don’t even get good shots like that in those situations.”
All but three of Matthews’ 14 points came in the fourth quarter.
NCA took a four-point lead three times in last eight minutes, and each time Matthews hit a 3-pointer that kept RCCA in the game. Matthews said shooting from beyond the arc was one of his strong suits, so he just kept shooting.
Dublin said that people should expect that out of Matthews, who has hit 88 3-pointers this season. Matthews has hit nine 3-pointers in one game and seven in one quarter, so Dublin knows what Matthews is capable of doing once he hits a hot streak.
“Guys like that don’t come around often,” Dublin said. “That’s a blessing to be able to shoot like that. We stick with him, whether he’s missing or not because you can see that nobody on the floor shoots like him.”
RCCA’s Guy Fauntleroy finished with a team-high 18 points, including four 3-pointers and a rebound. Fauntleroy limped off the court after suffering a leg injury in the third quarter. He returned to the lineup later in the game and played the majority of the fourth quarter.
NCA’s Olisa Ngonadi had 16 points and a game-high 22 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 senior was a dominant presence around the basket, grabbing eight rebounds in the first quarter alone. Senior Jakai Robinson had a game-high 22 points, including four 3-pointers and shot 10-of-13 from the free throw line.
With the score tied 10-10 halfway through the first quarter, NCA went on a 13-0 run to take a 30-10 lead in the second. The duo of Robinson and Ngonadi fueled NCA’s run. Robinson would drive into the paint for the layup and Ngonadi would be there with the easy tip in if Robinson’s shot missed its mark.
But after Faunteroy hit a 3-pointer before the break to make the score 35-25, the momentum began to shift. Defensively, RCCA held NCA to 14 points in the third and just 12 in the fourth — both of which were NCA’s lowest scoring quarters of the night.
Down 58-61 with less than two minutes left, Matthews was fouled on his final 3-point attempt of the night. All three of Matthews’ free throw shots fell cleanly through the net, tying the game 61-61. RCCA held NCA scoreless on the following possession, setting up Williamson’s late-game heroics.
“That was just a basketball player making a basketball play,” Matthews said. “But he came through…I’m very proud for Zah.”