Whenever a team is put in a position where a sophomore must hit three free throws to win a district road game, most coaches would feel a little nervous.
But when John Curtis sophomore Kai Morgan stepped up to the line to shoot three free throws, down 93-91, with no time on the clock, Curtis coach Mike Krajcer had the utmost confidence in his young star as he nailed all three to give Curtis (15-6, 3-0) a 94-93 win at De La Salle in a District 11-3A matchup on Friday night.
“Kai’s a sophomore in age, but he’s a three-year starter, so I expect that out of Kai,” Curtis coach Mike Krajcer said. “He’s the go-to guy for us. We went to him twice when we needed it and he came through for us.”
Morgan led the Patriots with 32 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field and added three rebounds and three assists. Guard Richard Durant contributed 25 points and Dontae Jones added 23 points and nine rebounds to end De La Salle’s recent streak of 15 wins in their past 16 games.
“I had to win this game,” Morgan said of his mentality when he stepped to the line. “I had to shut it down, I had to get my team this win. Got to have ice in your veins, right?”
In a wild fourth quarter that had a combined 49 points, both teams went back and forth with momentum-swinging plays and went down to the wire. Despite being down by five points with less than three minutes to play, Curtis scratched its way back.
Forward Jordan Holmes nailed a huge 3-pointer to give the Patriots an 81-80 lead with 37 seconds left, but Cavaliers forward Ahmad Taylor made one of two free throws to tie the game at 81 with 17 seconds left. Curtis got the ball with an opportunity to win the game in the end, but the Cavaliers (18-3, 1-1) were unable to get a shot off before the buzzer.
“We’ve got a lot of fight and they’ve got a lot of fight. This is what basketball is all about,” Krajcer said. “This was a great 3A game and another chance for us to establish a rival in our district. I’m proud of the way our guys responded tonight.”
After both teams exchanged the lead five times in the first five minutes of the third quarter, De La Salle’s fast-paced offense and home-court advantage began to seize control of the game. After back-to-back jumpers by Morgan gave Curtis a 45-43 lead, the Cavaliers went on a 10-0 run that swung the momentum in their favor and gave them a 53-45.
Despite a late Curtis run cutting their lead to two at one point, the Cavaliers took a 60-53 lead into the fourth quarter.
David Williams paced De La Salle with 21 points and six rebounds. Troy Nisby added 20 points and Miles Smartt had 14.
“We got together at halftime and said we’re going to have to fight with them all the way to the end,” Morgan said. “We just had to come out and set the tone for our team, because they follow our lead.”
Trailing 19-16 at the end of the first, The Patriots opened the second quarter with a 12-4 run to take a 28-23 lead, powered by the scoring of their guard trio of Durant, Morgan and Jones.
De La Salle began to fight their way back into the game when Durant was forced to the bench with four minutes left in the half because of his second foul. With Curtis’ senior point guard forced to watch from the sidelines, The Cavaliers closed the second quarter with an 8-3 run to take a 36-35 lead into halftime.
“At Curtis, we learn not to quit,” Krajcer said. “We teach our kids to keep plucking away and good things will happen, and that’s exactly what happened tonight.”