Episcopal’s George Mawanda-Kalema watched helplessly along with everyone else crammed inside the Maroon’s gymnasium for the final moments of the Interstate Athletic Conference boys’ basketball championship game Saturday night. The Maroon led by a point, but St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes had one more free throw with one second remaining.
The ball swirled around the rim, touching every part but the net before it caromed to the court and students rushed the floor.
Episcopal had escaped with a dramatic 56-55 win over the Saints in a battle of Alexandria rivals. The foul shooter collapsed in heartbreak. A few feet away, the contest’s hero cried, too.
“I broke down in tears just knowing she’s looking over me,” Mawanda-Kalema said. “I was able to get it done for her.”
Mawanda-Kalema moved from Burke to Geneva, Switzerland, as a 13-year-old for his mother’s new job. Before last school year, he returned to the Washington area and enrolled at Episcopal as a boarding student.
The switch went smoothly until December, when Mawanda-Kalema’s mother died after a battle with breast cancer. Suddenly, basketball became his refuge so far away from family. And with his father in the crowd Friday and Saturday for the first time this season, Mawanda-Kalema put on a show to deliver Episcopal (22-4) its second straight IAC title.
The junior scored Episcopal’s final 13 points and his last shot, a pull-up jumper that gave the Maroon a 56-54 lead with 5.8 seconds to go, was the game winner.
“It’s my favorite shot. I work on it all the time,” said Mawanda-Kalema (24 points). “Fortunately, it went in.”
Mawanda-Kalema danced in the middle of a throng of classmates, and senior Nick Reed breathed a sigh of relief after what he deemed the “craziest two days of my life.” On Friday, he scored 42 points and Mawanda-Kalema added 30 when Episcopal needed three overtimes to beat Georgetown Prep in the IAC semifinals.
But when Reed (12 points) fouled out Saturday with more than three minutes left, the Saints’ Donovann Toatley and Denmark Slay (20 points) threatened to make him the goat one year after he hit a buzzer beater to win the IAC title. The duo gave St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (17-8) the lead three times in the fourth quarter.
But the night ultimately belonged to Mawanda-Kalema. Once the final buzzer sounded, his father approached Reed and thanked him for “being George’s friend” during an emotional season. Reed thanked him back.
“He’s a helluva player,” Reed said.
Southern Maryland Christian Academy beat Avalon, 56-55, Saturday to win the MISAL boys’ basketball championship. Sophomore Adrian Jones hit a game-winning three-pointer in the closing seconds. . . .
In the girls’ championship game, King’s Christian scored a 67-18 win over Calverton behind 25 points from freshman Emma Vezzosi.