If the Gonzaga and DeMatha basketball players and coaches seemed a lot more calm than the fans that packed Frostburg State’s Bobcat Arena Saturday night it was because they were.
To those in the arena, it was a thriller that didn’t come down to the final minute or even second, but to the final half-second. It was excellent basketball by both sides, and the 18-18, 33-33 and 50-48 quarter scores served as a prediction of the type of finish that awaited.
ESPN would label it an Instant Classic. But to Gonzaga and DeMatha it wasn’t much out of the ordinary. In fact, it was typical, both coaches said.
Cedrick Lindsay hit two foul shots with 0.5 left on the clock to win it, 68-67, in a game that featured 17 ties. His free throws provided the final of 18 lead changes.
So, coach, ever seen anything like that?
“Yes, in two of the other games we played them this year,’’ said Gonzaga’s Steve Turner. “One was in overtime and another went down to the last minute-and-a-half.”
It was the fourth meeting of the year between the Washington powerhouses. Three were decided by a total of seven points.
Gonzaga won Saturday’s one-point game and another by 67-65. DeMatha won 73-69 and 71-52.
“Really, it was a typical DeMatha-Gonzaga basketball game,’’ said DeMatha’s Mike Jones. “Out of the four games we played, three were pretty much exactly the same. It’s not like we came into the game expecting anything different.”
There were many big plays from the opening tip, and each one seemed to overshadow the one that preceded it.
• Twenty bench points for Gonzaga. Kris Jenkins, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound freshman, had eight points, four assists, three rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals. And 6-9 junior Ben Dickinson, who had 14 points in the first two games, scored seven points, all in the final three minutes with the game on the line.
• Five three-point goals and four three-point plays for DeMatha.
• The 32-minute battle between all-tournament guards Tyler Thornton of Gonzaga and Cook of DeMatha.
• Eight big third-quarter points by Gonzaga’s Malcolm Lemmons, who was 7-for-9 for the game.
• DeMatha hitting 5-of-7 three-point shots, and finishing 21-of-35 (60 percent) for the tournament. Cook was 9-for-13 himself, a staggering 69.2 percent.
• Lindsay hit nothing but net on the tying and winning foul shots. He was 5-for-14 from the line for the tournament prior to the pressure shots that earned him the MVP award.
The biggest lead in the first half was three, by DeMatha. The biggest lead in the second half was six, by Gonzaga.
That largest lead for the Eagles was 64-58 with just under two minutes to go.
DeMatha scored its final nine points from the foul line, going 9-for-9 in the final 1:16. Cook was 5-for-5 in the final 20 seconds, helping the Stags overcome the deficit and putting the 19-time champs up 67-66 with 2.8 seconds left.
Then came the crazy ending, when Lindsay was fouled in the act of shooting a desperation three-point shot from about 40 feet with a half-second left. He made the first two to put the Eagles ahead 68-67, then missed the third one intentionally twice while DeMatha intentionally drew lane violations.
There was no way DeMatha could rebound a missed foul shot and get off a length-of-the-court heave in a half-second. The only way the Stags had a chance was for Gonzaga to make the third foul shot and give the Stags an inbounds play, or if the officials called a technical foul on DeMatha for the delay antics, giving the Eagles free throws but also the Stags a chance to steal the ensuing inbounds pass and maybe get a shot.
The odds of the Wizards making the NBA playoffs may be greater than either scenerio, but it was all the Stags had left with a half of a tick left on the scoreboard.
Officials chose not to end the classic final on a technical foul and allowed the game to end on Lindsay’s third intentional miss.
While Jones chased down an official to ask about the ruling, he said he respected their decision and was not angry about it afterward.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal,’’ he said. “There were so many other plays that could have won or lost the game for us. I’m going to congratulate my team for a great season, and congratulations to Gonzaga for winning this championship.
“Now, we’re going to go back to the drawing board and try to get back here next year.”
One thing is certain about next year: Gonzaga will return to the ACIT as the defending champion.
Only two other schools have won three straight titles in the tournament’s 50-year history: DeMatha (1971-1973, a record five in a row from 1977-1981, and 1998-2000), and Bishop O’Connell (2003-2005).
The three three-time champs have many things in common. One is the conference in which they play.
“We feel like we play in the best high school basketball conference in the country,’’ said Turner, who took a picture of the scoreboard when it was over. “You’ve got to be ready and prepared for the teams you go up against every single night.
“This is the best tournament we go to, and to me this is a special year to win it, being the 50th anniversary. It’s quite a feat, to win three in a row, and I don’t even know how to really put it into words.”
Words weren’t really needed. The play spoke for itself, and was the absolute perfect way for the ACIT to celebrate its first half century.
“Even with the six-point lead, I wasn’t feeling all that good. You never have a good feeling when you are playing DeMatha, especially with the rivalry we have,’’ Turner said. “Anything can happen.”
Anything, and just about everything, did Saturday night.
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. He can be reached at email@example.com.