Colby Wilson is well known as one of the top players in Division IV basketball and one of the most lethal shooters in the state. But through the 3 quarters he had just 5 points. His shot was off and he was turning the ball over. But you know what good players do? They don't get down, they keep their head up and keep playing.
That's exactly what Wilson did. The 6-foot junior wing hit 3 big shots in the 4th quarter, leading Epping to a hard fought, come from behind win over a tough Portsmouth Christian Academy (PCA) team 58-53 on Thursday night in Dover.
"It feels good, that I can come back like that after how awful I was playing" Wilson said with a smile. "I was pressing too much."
PCA led throughout the game, but Epping cut the deficit to 1 heading to the 4th quarter. The Eagles extended their lead to 2 possessions, as senior 6-foot-2 wing Eric Bontemps (team-high 17 points) slashed to the rim for a finger roll and then teammate Paul Staude banked in a floater. Epping responded, as 6-foot-2 senior forward Brett Couture (15 points) finished strong inside.
That's when Wilson took over. First he came down on the break and drilled a pull-up 3-pointer from the right wing to tie it up 43-43 with 5:52 left in regulation. Soon after that Wilson missed a pair of free throws, but redeemed himself by draining another 3, this one from the left wing, right in front of the Epping bench. Just seconds later the Blue Devils got the ball back, and again it was Wilson, driving in before spinning away from the rim and hitting a turnaround fadeaway jumper. 3 huge shots by Wilson - 8 points in the blink of an eye as Epping goes from down 3 to being up 3.
"That changed the game, when Colby hit the 3 and then came down, made that spin move and hit the jumper" said Epping head coach Sean Young, who coached the Blue Devils to the D-Iv state title last year in his first season at the helm. "That's what swung the momentum. We never believe we're out of a basketball game - ever."
Epping kept the momentum on their side, as guard Dylan Derosier (team-high 16 points) converted a big put-back to give the Blue Devils their first 2 possession lead of the contest, 50-46. Drew McCormack answered back on the other end for PCA with a strong put-back of his own, and it was 50-48 Blue Devils.
Derosier again came up big, making a strong move to the rim for an and-1 finish. That made it 54-48 Epping with just 1:38 remaining and capped a 16-5 Blue Devils run.
"They picked up their pressure and hit some big shots" lamented Portsmouth Christian Academy head coach Lewis Atkins. "It was a lack of execution down the stretch - I talk about it every practice. We didn't push the tempo in the 2nd half. It's tougher when you're going against a set defense every time."
It wasn't over yet, though. Bontemps made a big take, driving into the lane for a floater to cut the Epping lead to 54-52 with 1:00 left in the 4th quarter. The Blue Devils were letting them hang around, as Couture missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and then Derosier missed a pair of FTs. On the second missed FT by Derosier, Bontemps grabbed the board and got fouled. He went to the line for 2 shots with a chance to tie it up. But he only made 1 of 2 FTs, so Epping was still in the lead and they got the ball back, so PCA was again forced to chase and foul.
They fouled the wrong guy. Wilson went to the line and calmly drained both shots. Not only that, but Bontemps committed the foul and it was his fifth person so he fouled out.
Still, the Eagles had a chance. They were down 56-53, with possession and plenty of time to try and get a look from long range (21 seconds left). PCA inbounded the ball from the sideline, but the inbounds pass was deflected and then there was a scramble for the loose ball. Epping's Cameron Osgood came away with the steal, raced up the court and dished it to Tom Bullock for a layup. The Blue Devils win it 58-53.
"We went into a totally different defense for that play" said Coach Young. "We knew #1 (Caleb Gendron) and #10 (Shaun Bradley) were their only 2 shooters on the court, so we went to a triangle and 2. We learned from the Derryfield game. We knew the worst that could happen is it goes to OT. Then we got a deflection."
A thrilling comeback win for Epping and a tough loss for PCA.
"We'll be the #3 seed and play against Pittsburgh in the 1st round" said Coach Young.
"We'll be the #7 seed" said Coach Atkins. "We would have been the #4 if we won tonight. We're not afraid of anyone in D-IV. We'll strap up against anybody."
Bullock made a nice play early in the 1st quarter, jumping the passing lane for a steal and showing good speed as he raced to the rim for the layup. PCA countered with a 6-0 run - Bontemps made a good dish to a cutting Joe Towle for a layup. That was followed quickly by a Bontemps layup in transition and a baseline drive and finish by McCormack.
Couture halted the run, with a strong move to the bucket for 2. PCA was pushing the tempo and moving the ball well on offense, resulting in layups by Towle and Bontemps. Wilson hit a fadeaway jumper from 18 feet on the other end, but then Bontemps came right back with a strong put-back. Forward Jackson Rivers made a nice weak side block for Epping, but then Gendron drove and dished it to teammate Devin Lund for a layup. Gendron buried a 3, and it was 17-11 Eagles after 1 quarter of play.
"We play against these guys 5 or 6 times per year, we knew what they were going to do" said Coach Atkins. "We tried to take away their strengths."
Both teams scored 12 points apiece in the 2nd quarter. The 6-foot-1 McCormack showed good leaping ability and explosiveness to get up high for an offensive rebound and put-back. Wilson went to the rim, took the contact and hit a fadeaway bank shot. PCA continued to move the ball well, resulting in a strong finish inside by McCormack (14 points).
The Eagles continued to maintain the lead, as Bontemps knifed his way to the rim for 2 more. Then Bontemps hustled for a loose ball and went hard to the rim for another athletic finish, giving PCA their largest lead of the game, 27-19. Towle made a good dish to McCormack for a strong finish, but then Couture showed tremendous effort and determination on an and-1 finish inside. It was 29-23 PCA at halftime.
"Brett kept us close" said Coach Young.
PCA came out in the 2nd half with a 2nd point lead and good defensive intensity. Bontemps made a nice weak side block and Bradley made a nice steal. Couture hit an 18-footer - PCA didn't want to play him that far away from the basket but he made them pay. Bradley 11 points, all in 2nd half) drilled a 3, and the Eagles were now up 34-27 (their largest lead of the 2nd half).
Epping answered back with a 6-0 run. Derosiers made a tough drive and and-1 finish. He missed the free throw, but Rivers converted the put-back. Then Rivers hit a leaner in the lane to cap the 6-0 run and cut the PCA lead to 34-33 with 3:33 left in the 3rd quarter and forcing Coach Atkins to call timeout.
Bontemps made another nice block, which started a fast break for the Eagles and resulted in a quick layup for Bradley. Then it was Epping's turn, as Rivers made a nice weak side block which started a Blue Devils transition opportunity. Derosiers converted the layup, just after returning to the lineup after he got accidentally popped right in the rose by a PCA player. That tied it up 36-36. Bradley countered on the other end just seconds later, connecting on a clutch 3-pointr from the top of the key to put the Eagles back on top 39-36. Derosiers made a steal at 3/4 court, raced up the floor with it and going all the way to the rim for a strong finish. It was 39-38 PCA after 3.
A great game between 2 teams who will both be tough outs come tournament time.