With the clock running down and the score close in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s game against league rival Rockville, Wheaton appeared entirely unfazed by the high-pressure circumstances. While the Rams’ composure frayed at the end of regulation and deep into overtime, the Knights were steady; they had long since worked out any close-game jitters.
Friday night’s 55-51 overtime home win over Rockville marked the Knights’ 10th game in 14 this season decided by 10 points or fewer, a slate that includes a four-overtime loss by eight points at Rockville earlier this season. All six of Wheaton’s losses have come by eight points or fewer, and Friday’s game indicated to first-year Coach Marco Basso-Luca that lessons learned the hard way early on are turning close losses into energizing wins down the stretch.
“We’re getting more comfortable handling late-game situations,” Basso-Luca said. “We’re doing much better with the pressure. It was more of a problem early in the season when it seemed like we weren’t used to playing with the proper poise to put a team away, to make foul shots and good decisions down the stretch.”
The Knights did both Friday. While Wheaton (8-6, 6-2 Montgomery 3A/2A) did relinquish a lead it held with just seconds left in regulation, it was because of an impressive full-court reverse layup from Rockville’s Nehemiah Jackson rather than a miscue of its own.
In overtime, Wheaton pressured the Rams, forcing turnovers that sent Jacob Payne to the line on four separate occasions.
Unlike in previous games, when late-game foul shooting failed the Knights, Payne made sure Wheaton held its ground. The junior guard knocked down 7 of 8 free throws in the final minutes of overtime to hold off the resilient Rams.
“It all started from that first game,” said Knights senior Ibrahim Kallon, who scored 13 points in the game. “They beat us at their court, so we had to come back and show them that, on our court, we’re competitive and that we should be a known team in the county — a statement game, pretty much.”
The win pulled Wheaton ahead of Rockville (10-3, 5-2) in the 3A/2A standings. Both teams trail Poolesville, which has yet to lose in league play. The Knights fell to the Falcons in another close game, 63-61, on Thursday.
“Our game plan [against Rockville] was to stop their shooters, and even though sometimes that didn’t work very well, we got stops we needed,” Kallon said. “Our pride doesn’t just let us start getting blown out.”