It wasn’t pretty, but in the end, the Van Horn boys basketball team found a way.
In the first round of the Class 4 District 13 tournament, the Falcons were clinging to a one-point lead less than 40 seconds left against the Lincoln College Prep Blue Tigers.
At one point, they missed five straight free throws, but thanks to a big defensive play from senior forward Joell Wilson and some critical rebounds, Van Horn escaped 59-57 win Wednesday at Center High School.
Van Horn advances to play the host Center Yellowjackets at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinals.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘God wants us to win this game.’” Wilson said. “I was thinking, ‘I am going to get the ball if I can.’ When we miss free throws, I knew it was OK because I was going to get the ball back for my team.”
Added Van Horn head coach Max Sollars: “We don’t write free throws on our board before games. We write ‘T.T.W.’” The toughest team wins. You can miss free throws, open shots and layups, but I feel in high school basketball, in a way, in a game like tonight, the kid that is tougher and wants it more is going to win it. Even though we missed free throws, we still were not done. We don’t quit. We were the toughest Van Horn team I’ve been around tonight.”
The Falcons went into the fourth with a 38-37 lead after trailing Lincoln Prep for most of the game. They led by as many as six in the final period when guard Xavier Marrero, who finished with 14 points, made two free throws and driving layup to make it 50-44.
But the Blue Tigers would not go away. After Lincoln sophomore Jontell Washington got a steal and a fast-break layup to cut it to 50-48, Van Horn senior Terrion Seddens, who had 17 points, came up with a clutch 3-point play to extend the lead back to five.
The Falcons (9-15) staved off Lincoln Prep until Washington sank a 3-pointer to tie it at 56 late in the quarter.
After another Van Horn travel, Lincoln Prep took the lead when Arthur Weston Jr. made 1 of 2 free throws.
Van Horn senior Tyrone Thornton made a free throw to tie it at 57 with about 56 seconds left.
Lincoln Prep tried to wind down the clock for the last shot, but Wilson stripped Antoin Burton and launched a long pass to Thornton, who was fouled. He made the first free throw, but missed the second and Wilson tipped it back to Thornton. He was fouled again, but this time, he missed both free throws. Luckily for the Falcons, Seddens dove for a loose ball, beating three Lincoln Prep players to it as Sollars called a timeout before the referees could call a jump ball. Joe Crocker then missed a pair of free throws.
Weston got the rebound. But two seconds after he grabbed the ball, he was called for traveling. Seddens made 1 of 2 free throws on the next possession to make it 59-57 with 2.2 seconds left. A last-second desperation, full-court heave from Washington fell short to cap the Falcons’ gutsy win.
“Joell and Terrion really kept us alive by getting those rebounds, boxing out,” Marrero said. “Joell got some big blocks and I just handled the pressure and ran our offense to get us back in the game.
Things did not go well for Van Horn early on as Lincoln Prep led by as many as nine in the first quarter and took a 19-12 lead into the second after Quinan Rieves-Garrion hit a buzzer-beating jumper for the last of his 10 first-period points.
In the second, Van Horn had a handful of opportunities to take the lead, but ended up turning it over each time. Van Horn managed to keep it close throughout the second but another buzzer-beater on a putback from Jaishon Jefferson gave Lincoln a 27-24 halftime lead.
“In our game plan we knew about No. 10 (Rieves-Garrion). He’s a great scorer,” Sollars said. “He gets around the rim and he has a nice handle. We put Terrion on him for a while and we were lacking rebounding. So I put Tyrone Thornton on him and it worked.”
But it was Wilson who came up big in the second half and helped the Falcons squeak out a win. He scored 12 of his game-best 19 points in the final 16 minutes, including a fast-break dunk in the third. He also had two blocks and nine rebounds.
“When Joell feels it, he can be free,” Sollars said. “He can be a very good player.”