Walking to the free throw line with 1.2 seconds left in a tied game, Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof kept his thoughts simple. The sophomore forward tried to ignore his boisterous Gonzaga classmates behind the basket and wanted to maintain his routine of three dribbles and a deep breath before letting go.
Abdur-Ra’oof, whose father, Ziz, was one of the most famous wide receivers ever to play for the University of Maryland, said he was more nervous earlier as the Eagles tried to protect what was left from an 18-point lead over top-ranked DeMatha. He calmly stepped to the foul line and made both shots as third-ranked Gonzaga remained undefeated with a 76-74 victory before a capacity crowd of 3,200 on Saturday night at American University’s Bender Arena.
“I practice free throws a lot, just had to knock them down,” said Abdur-Ra’oof, who finished with a career-high 14 points. “Try to keep out of my mind that we weren’t up at all.”
It was a thrilling finish to a game that Gonzaga (17-0, 6-0 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) controlled throughout. With All-Met guard Nate Britt watching from the sideline for the third consecutive game with a bruised calf, junior forward Kris Jenkins continued his run as the region’s hottest player.
Despite sitting the entire second quarter after picking up his second foul Jenkins made all six of his three-point attempts and finished with 27 points. With junior guard Charles Glover and senior center Will Rassman chipping in, Gonzaga led, 64-46, with just more than five minutes remaining.
“He’s a leader and knew we needed him to step up,” Gonzaga Coach Steve Turner said. “When it was time for him to take over, he took over.”
The same could be said of DeMatha senior guard James Robinson. The Pittsburgh recruit scored 13 of his season-high 25 points in the final quarter as the Stags (16-2, 7-1) rallied furiously. Robinson’s two free throws with nine seconds left tied it at 74.
On the ensuing possession, Turner instructed guard Tavon Blackmon to drive toward the basket and make something happen. He passed to the 6-foot-7 Abdur-Ra’oof, who was fouled hard as he went up to dunk.
“I knew he was going to make” the free throws, Turner said. “I’d worry maybe about someone else. . . . The big thing with him is talking him through and making sure he holds his follow through, but Kris was already talking to him about it.
“When he does that, he’s usually money.”