The Washington boys basketball team never gave in, but they fell one basket short,
That was the story for the Panthers Friday night in their 51-49 loss to Bloomington in the Class 3A Peoria Bradley Sectional final.
Washington (24-7) had a chance to win, but junior guard Adrian Ware’s 3-pointer with time expiring hit high off the glass.
“I’m just so proud of everything this team stands for,” Washington head coach Kevin Brown said. “We never gave in.”
Bloomington (25-4) controlled the opening of the fourth quarter, using a 7-2 run to begin the period, extending its lead to 42-36 with 5 minutes, 19 seconds to play.
But Washington fought back, bringing the score within three points after a Ware layup with :22.5 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Panthers were forced to begin fouling to extend the game, and Bloomington’s Patrick Fisher left the door open.
After shooting 1-for-2 on his free throw attempts with :20.5 seconds left, Washington junior Tairae Hersemann nailed a deep three from the top of the arc to bring the Panthers within one point at 50-49 with :08 seconds remaining.
Once again, Fisher was fouled; this time with :05.1 seconds left.
And once again, he made 1-of-2 free throws.
Washington inbounded the ball and went the length of the floor, but Ware’s 3-pointer missed with time expiring.
“We ran a play at the end that we always run, and our first option wasn’t there,” Brown said. “So we went to the backside and didn’t end up in a shooting position.”
The teams played a tight opening half, with five lead changes in the opening 16 minutes.
Washington took its first lead of the contest behind Tairae Hersemann’s first of four 3-pointers on the night at 9-8 with 4:09 left in the first quarter.
Hersemann led Washington in scoring with 14 points.
In the second, Bloomington gained the initiative behind back-to-back baskets from Purple Raiders junior Chris Pugh, to hold a 22-17 lead with 3:12 left in the second.
But, Washington used a 10-5 run to close out the quarter, capped off by a Devin Whitelow layup with time expiring before half.
Bloomington and Washington were tied at 27 at intermission.
“We wanted to run and push the basketball and we thought we did a good job,” Brown said. “We missed a couple of easy buckets and that’s when they got some run-outs. We got hurt a little bit on the boards and that got us in trouble.”
Washington only shot two free throws in the contest (0-2), and while Bloomington shot 10-for-19. The charity stripe was a difference maker.
Brown was proud of the way his team turned the season around, after struggling at the Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament.
That effort was spearheaded by the lone senior on the team: Whitelow, who scored 12 points Friday.
“Devin created a team around him that was ready to go to war,” Brown said. “These guys are going to come back (next year), and it is great to know they’ll be back. But that is an incredible individual that wears No. 10 for us.”
Whitelow will continue his basketball career next year at Winona State, but Brown will miss the leadership that he brought to the program.
“I’ve had some great kids come through this program, and I don’t know if I’ve had any better than him,” Brown said. “His family brought him to me and said, ‘Here he is, try to make him good.’ And it’s so far beyond basketball. That young man is a quality kid from top to bottom. He’s made me a better person.”
The Purple Raiders had three players in double figure scoring: Chris Payton (13 points), Colton Sandage (12 points) and Dazon Farris (11 points).
With the win, Bloomington advances to the DeKalb Supersectional to face Marengo.
“We forced them to miss some shots in the second half to really give us some separation,” Bloomington head coach Michael Mosley said. “We were able to grind the clock. This is great for our school and we got over the hump.”