Though they trailed by just nine points at halftime of Saturday’s contest against No. 5 Clinton Christian, Theodore Roosevelt Coach Rob Nickens warned his players in the locker room that just a few more three-point attempts stood between them and a blowout loss in front of a capacity crowd at the More Than Basketball Uptown Hoopfest.
“In the first half, we kept settling for jump shots against their zone and they were getting run-outs off of our misses,” Nickens said. “Clinton Christian is the type of team if they sense you giving up, it can turn into a blowout real quick.”
Despite giving up four inches to Clinton Christian’s forwards, six-foot-four Rough Riders senior Anthony Whitney took the lead in his team’s revamped second-half attack, banging inside for buckets, including the go-ahead score, in No. 18 Roosevelt’s 68-67 overtime win against the Eagles at Trinity Washington University.
After battling back to erase an 11-point deficit, the Rough Riders made sure to drain their easiest shots of the night, hitting all six of their free throws in the extra period. Meantime, Clinton Christian missed 11 of its 24 attempts on the night.
The Eagles were without senior swingman Allante Holston (knee) and, for the first quarter, leading scorer Jon Davis (discipline). But Byron Hawkins picked up the offensive slack by pouring in 15 of his 22 points in the first half to give Clinton Christian (9-1) early control.
With the Eagles’ 2-3 zone defense pushing Roosevelt out to the perimeter, the Rough Riders (7-3) struggled to gather a rhythm on the offensive end. But thanks to several Whitney putbacks and consecutive three-pointers by Jarell Allen, Roosevelt cut the deficit to two midway through the third period.
Fueled by a strong finish at the rim by Ahsante Shivers (15 points) at the end of the third, the Eagles were able to extend their lead back to seven. But Clinton Christian made just two field goals in the fourth quarter, and Whitney’s ability to find space in the paint helped the Rough Riders roar back.
Roosevelt senior point guard Johnnie Shuler also gained momentum in the clutch, scoring eight of his 14 points in the final three minutes to tie the score at 60. Both teams had a chance to end the game in the waning seconds of regulation, but a Clinton Christian steal and Roosevelt block sent the contest to overtime.
“The first half, I wasn’t getting a lot of space to score, but the coaches kept telling me to keep shooting,” Shuler said. “At the end, I just went at them and Anthony kept hitting his mid-range jumper to bring us back.”
As the Eagles’ offensive struggles continued, Whitney was able to soar into the lane and hang in the air just long enough for the decisive score with seconds remaining in overtime.
“This is a big win for our program, especially because no one thought we could beat them,” Whitney said. “But we believed it and that was enough.”