A year ago, Antanayne Tucker was an eighth grade basketball player in Temple Hills, and the Bell basketball program was at its lowest point in years. The Griffins won just two games, and scored three points total in their first game and last game of the season.
The rebuilding project started last summer, and soon it included four freshmen — including Tucker, a fluid, wise-beyond-her-years forward. On Tuesday, she wasn’t just playing in the biggest game of her career. She was playing in the biggest game in Bell’s history.
Tucker contributed in a way she didn’t think possible after joining the team this year: She scored the game-winning layup in overtime to lift the Griffins over perennial power Wilson, 62-60, in the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association championship game.
“It was just a blessing I got the ball,” said Tucker, who converted the layup after a teammate dished in the lane. “I was overtaken by emotion.”
Wilson (20-7) had one last chance on the ensuing possession, but guard Tu’ziah Hall lost control of the ball in the lane in the final seconds. The Tigers lost in the city title game for the second consecutive season.
Bell (17-11), which had split with the Tigers during the regular season, got 20 points from junior guard Rayonna Marshall. The freshman trio of Tucker, Alexandra Hall and Daija Gallion combined for 26 points — and Bell needed every one of them, considering the hot shooting of Wilson’sTytilayo Green, who scored 17 of her 19 points in the first half to help her team close to a 32-30 deficit.
The speedy Marshall added 15 of her 20 after the break — including a runner in the lane with about two minutes left in overtime that pulled her team within 59-58. Moments later, the league’s player of the year, Mercedes Suarez, gave Wilson the lead with another bucket in transition.
“It was so intense,” Marshall said. “They would score. We would score.”
That’s when the young Griffins came out of a timeout and slowed down the pace. After not finding a good shot, Marshall scooped the ball to Tucker, who finished, then danced her way back to the defensive end. Marshall added a free throw in the final seconds after Wilson lost possession, and the celebration for the Columbia Heights school could begin.
“There wasn’t nothing last year,” Tucker said. We made it something.”
The Rough Riders gave a packed crowd at Coolidge a show, and proved just how much of an offensive juggernaut they’ve become. Roosevelt entered the contest averaging 86.5 points over the last four games — and while it didn’t score that many Tuesday, it displayed a number of weapons that were too much for Woodson (20-4) to handle.
Woodson, which had won eight straight and upset Roosevelt (20-6) at home back on Feb. 4, was led by guards Calvin Tibbs (16 points) and Devin Smith, who added 15 points and got his team started with a thunderous dunk in the first two minutes. It was all Roosevelt after that point, as the Rough Riders were making their fifth appearance in the city title game in seven seasons.
“When we lost to Woodson at home [on Feb. 4], and if you would’ve came into our locker room, it was like a funeral home,” Roosevelt Coach Rob Nickens said. “Our kids knew they could come back. We played with a sense of urgency tonight, and we wanted to finish.”