Nearly 3,000 people packed Coolidge’s gym Monday night to watch a marquee matchup between third-ranked Gonzaga and its standout junior guard Nate Britt against Patterson, the Maryland 4A finalist and the top-ranked team in the Baltimore Sun, and its electrifying guard Aquille Carr.
But instead what they saw was a Britt-less Gonzaga team fight back from a 17-point deficit, take its first lead with 1 minute 39 seconds left and finish with a 75-73 win in the MLK Hoopfest Showcase on a game-winning three-pointer by forward Kris Jenkins.
Carr, known as “Crimestopper” because of his gym-filling performances, hit two free throws with 24 seconds left to pull Patterson ahead 73-72. On the ensuing possesion, Gonzaga (15-0) drove down the floor, tried to set up a pick and roll but couldn’t. Instead, an off-target three-point attempt was blindly deflected by senior forward Will Rassman to an open Jenkins, who squared up and hit the shot as time expired.
“It felt good when it left my hand but when I shot it my heart stopped just like everybody else’s,” said Jenkins, who finished with a team-high 26 points. “And when I saw it go through the basket, that’s when I knew it was real.”
Added Rassman: “I was just trying to get [the ball] out there somewhere.”
Britt, a North Carolina recruit, did not play because of a bruised calf he hurt in Saturday’s 77-65 win over Riverside (La.) in the HoopHall Classic in Springfield, Mass. Britt, in khaki pants, a tie and a dark-colored blazer, sat on the Gonzaga bench, held out because it was a nonleague matchup.
And without him, Patterson (8-5) stormed out to a 29-14 first quarter lead behind a barrage of three-point shooting, tough rebounding and the dazzling moves of Carr (36 points).
Jenkins, a 6-foot-6 forward who has carried the team through the past few weeks, did much of the same early against Patterson. He scored all but of two of his team’s 14 points in the first quarter, mainly of short jump shots and foul shots.
But as Patterson double-teamed Jenkins, Gonzaga chipped away at Patteron’s lead with tough defense and passing. The rest of the Eagles carried the load, trimming a double-digit lead down behind the post play of the 6-foot-8 Rassman (18 points) and junior guard Tavon Blackmon (13 points).
But then on final play, Rassman’s tip found Jenkins open on the three-point line. And once he hit it, the gym erupted and Gonzaga players ran off the court.
“It felt good,” Jenkins said.