There will be a new No. 1 atop the Class 3A boys basketball poll when it comes out next week.
Josh Williamson made two free throws with 20 seconds remaining, and seventh-ranked Airport withstood two decent shots in the final seconds to knock off No. 1 Midland Valley 64-63 in a key Region 5-4A contest Friday night.
The win stretches the Eagles’ winning streak to 10 games and gives them sole possession of first place in the region. But coach Jimmy Kinard realizes there is much basketball left to be played.
“It’s a great win for Airport basketball,” Kinard said. “I’m just so proud of those kids. But we’re not even halfway through the region. Yet it’s a big win, because Midland Valley is a good squad. That’s a quality win, so I’m pleased, but we realize there is a long way to go.”
There were 17 lead changes and eight ties, with eight of the lead changes coming in the final 3:02. The Mustangs (16-3, 3-1) took their final lead, 63-62, on a rebound basket from Kameron Brown with 23 seconds remaining. But Williamson was fouled in the back-court to set the stage for the sophomore to sink the two biggest free throws of his young career.
“That was clutch hitting those free throws,” Kinard said. “That’s the difference in winning or losing any game, much less big games. He hit some of the biggest free throws of the season down the stretch.”
Williamson had never shot free throws with a game in the balance, but he displayed calmness. He also made two free throw with 43 seconds remaining and scored six of his eight points in the final 2:51
“My coach told me to go to the line and focus,” Williamson said. “My team had the faith in me to hit the free throws to win the game.”
The Mustangs had two good looks in the final 20 seconds but both shots came up short. After the final shot, Airport batted the ball around to three players and missed a layup at the buzzer, but it still set off a wild celebration at mid-court by the players and Airport students.
Midland Valley coach Mark Snelgrove felt his team let one slip away. The Mustangs missed their first nine shots from the field to open the fourth quarter and went 0-for-4 from the free throw line. They were held scoreless for the first 3:44 of the period.
“I’ll take those two shots at the end anytime. We had two clean looks, couldn’t ask for anything better,” Snelgrove said. “I can think of three or four layups with nobody around us that we missed. Our best free throw shooters missed four in a row in the fourth quarter. We gave them the last four points by fouling, even though I don’t think that last one was a foul. We had so many opportunities to win the game by 10 or 12 points, but we didn’t do it.”
The biggest lead by either team was seven points by Airport in the first half. Sammie Frazier scored 14 of his game-high 22 points in the opening half, and freshman CJ Wilson added nine to give the Eagles (13-3, 4-0) an early boost. Airport twice held leads by seven points and never trailed by more than three points.
The big-game pressure never seemed to get to them despite the fact they started one senior along with a junior, two sophomores and a freshman.
“What a lot of people don’t realize, we’re extremely young,” Kinard said.
Airport lost to Class 4A White Knoll and twice to A.C. Flora before Christmas but are hitting its stride during region play.
“We’re playing as a team. Early in the season, we were playing one-on-one ball. We’re playing together as a unit now,” Williamson said. “This lets people know to watch out for Airport basketball. We just beat the No. 1 team in the state, it feels good.”
MV: Daniel Carr 16 Kameron Brown 12, Aaron Ray 10, Green 8, Turner 7, B. Brown 4, Morerney 2, Johnson 2, Wade 2. A: Sammy Frazier 22, CJ Wright 12, Quan Bovin 10, Gillins 9, Williamson 8, Breeden 2, Goldwire 1.