Grant Gittins thought his biggest contribution during Annandale’s 80-78 double-overtime win against Lake Braddock would be the two free throws he was asked to take at the end of the first extra period.
But when Gittins subbed in and nailed both foul shots in place of his injured Annandale teammate to send the game to a second overtime, Atoms Coach Matt Behne elected to keep the senior reserve on the floor.
“I thought he was going to put someone else in because I’ve only played in one other game this year,” Gittins said. “But we had two guys injured, two other guys in foul trouble and one out sick, so he kept me in there.”
After Lake Braddock hit a free throw to go up 78-77 and a desperate shot by Annandale ricocheted out of bounds, the Bruins called a timeout with 0.2 seconds left.
In the huddle, Behne drew up a play for Austin Hall to lob a pass into the lane for an Atoms player to potentially tip it in for the win. The second-year coach told Gittins to stand in the corner a few feet away from Hall.
As Gittins walked back out to the floor, he thought back to a junior varsity game two years ago, when his shot from the corner missed and the Atoms lost.
“That’s been the memory stuck in my head when it comes to last-second plays,” Gittins said. “So I was thinking, ‘What if Austin actually passes me the ball?’”
With Lake Braddock packing its five tallest players in the paint, leaving Gittens wide open in the left corner, the senior’s thoughts came to reality. Hall dumped a pass to Gittins, who quickly hoisted up a shot that swished through the net.
As the fans rushed the court to mob their unlikely hero on their home floor, Lake Braddock Coach Brian Metress protested the final shot and a bit of controversy added to the chaos.
When Metress called timeout with 0.2 seconds remaining, he did so to confirm with the referee that the only shot Annandale could get off in time was a tip. According to Metress, the head referee confirmed it. Metress said Bruins assistant Felton asked the official two more times if it had to be a tip and the official said that was correct.
“So we subbed in our five tallest guys and told them to stand in the lane since the only shot they could get was a tip-in,” Metress said. “When they put the player in the corner, our guys were looking to see if they should guard him and I yelled, ‘No,’ because the rulebook says you need at least 0.3 seconds to catch and shoot.”
When Metress saw the ball go to Gittins, he began walking toward Behne to shake his hand, thinking that no matter how quickly he shot or if it went in, the rules would negate the basket. But when the ball fell through the net, instead of signaling a three-pointer, waving the shot off or going to check with the scorer’s table, the referees left the floor as if to confirm that the basket was good.
According to Section 5-2-5 of the National Federation of High Schools rule book , “When play is resumed with a throw-in or free throw and three-tenths (.3) of a second or less remains on the clock, the player may not gain control of the ball and try for a field goal. In this situation, only a tap could score.”
While the home crowd stormed the court, Metress began looking around for an official so he could protest the call. But the referees were back in the locker room and, according to Metress, refused to come back out to address the situation.
“I know that league rules state [that] if there’s a difference of opinion about a basket, it has to be considered on the spot at the game,” Metress said. “I had an understanding with the official before the play and then they just ran out after the shot and went against what they said. ...I knew this was my only recourse to protest it on the spot, because once everybody leaves the gym, it’s over. So I stayed on the floor.”
When it became clear that the referees would not return, Metress eventually left with his team. But Lake Braddock athletic director Mark Martino said Sunday that he will be making more calls to the Virginia High School League and Cardinal Basketball Officials Association to see what can be done.
“They have to take a look at what’s involved and the video to determine their steps,” Martino said. “The video is pretty clear as far as the time and the shot, so you can see what happened. But all we can do is make them aware of it and hope that they can address it somehow.”
In the meantime, the Atoms can claim another victory in a campaign that’s been a turnaround from last year, when they went 4-18 during Behne’s first season at a helm.
Hall, who nailed six three-pointers en route to a game-high 26 points on Friday, leads the team with an average of 17 points. But the junior is one of several key contributors on the balanced Atoms, who boast three players averaging double-digit points and a solid fourth scorer in Ahmed Elnour.
“This year we’re playing more together as a team with the common goal of winning Annandale’s first district title,” Hall said. “A lot of our guys can attack the basket and we’re always looking to kick it out to the open person, and that gets us a lot of three-pointers. We’re really working well together.”
With the score tied at 51, Warriors Coach Tony Bentley drew up a play to get the ball inside to forward Dominique Tham. But with the Hawks bringing heavy pressure on defense and double-teaming Tham once he got the ball, the junior instead passed it back outside to guard Jalen Carver. Though the time was ticking closer to zero, Marqua Walton yelled out “one more,” calling for Carver to swing the ball over to him for an open three-pointer. The junior guard caught the ball in rhythm and netted the game-winning shot from the left side as time expired, sending the visiting Warriors into a frenzy over their 54-51 victory.
“I felt relaxed when I shot it,” Walton said. “It was a total team effort to get the ball in my hands.”
The Warriors also put together a memorable finish in last year’s Virginia AAA Northern Region quarterfinal playoff game against Langley. On that play, Walton served as the assist man after the original scheme broke down, swinging the ball to Re’Quan Hopson, who drained his first three-point attempt of the season to give the Warriors a 46-44 win.
“For both shots, it wasn’t the play designed because the opponent knew who we wanted to get the ball to,” Walton said. “But last year and this year is a lot different. Last year, I wasn’t prepared, but this year, I’m working hard to be the best I can be for my team and keep them up when we’re down.”
Walton’s buzzer beater helped him finish with a season-high 20 points and pushed Wakefield’s record to 9-2 as it enters Tuesday’s anticipated Conference 13 matchup against No. 15 Edison.