TACOMA – To chants of “You’re not ready!” from rowdy Decatur fans, Gonzaga Prep didn’t appear to be early in its first game Wednesday at the State 4A boys basketball tournament.
The Bullpups fell deep into a hole, trailing 17-2 just more than five minutes into the game and things looked bleak.
But the Bullpups improbably battled back, then weathered some late-game adversity for a 60-54 victory over a team picked as a possible state titlist.
Before first quarter’s end, Sean Fischer hit two 3-pointers and David Stockton a basket to jump-start the rally as G-Prep outscored the Gators 29-9 over the next 10 minutes for a 31-26 halftime lead.
Then the game was turned over to Ryan Nicholas, whose will carried the day. He scored 11 third-quarter points to keep the Bullpups (24-3) in front, and in the hectic final quarter, he was 6 for 6 at the free-throw line, including four straight after Decatur tied the game at 54-54.
Stockton had been hit from behind, causing him to lose the ball on the Gators’ tying basket. But Nicholas took it hard to the basket and was sent to the line with 1:19 remaining.
He added two more free throws with 16 seconds left to play after rebounding to end a flurry of Decatur shot attempts and ended with 22 points for the night. Stockton finished it hitting two more free throws with 7 seconds to play and had 13 points. Fischer scored 11.
“I just know that basketball is a game of runs, and just knew it would turn around,” said Nicholas, who won a sportsmanship award after the game.
Early it didn’t appear it would. Decatur came out hot, getting 3-pointers from fifth-year senior Marcus Tibbs and Jerron Smith, who combined for all but two of the 17 points.
The Gators defense harried Stockton into five turnovers, and with 2:40 remaining in the first quarter, the Bullpups were staring at a 15-point deficit.
“We worked on being patient, but got into a mode of walking the ball up the court,” coach Mike Haugen said. “That gave them an advantage against David.”
Once they loosened up, not necessarily looking to fast break, but having Stockton attack more, the game began to turn around.
“It took the wolves off my point guard a bit,” Haugen said.
Fischer hit his 3-pointers 24 seconds apart with less than two minutes left in the first quarter and Stockton scored with 6 seconds remaining. The last two baskets came off Decatur turnovers.
In the second quarter, G-Prep scored eight straight, four by Stockton, to cut the deficit to a point. Fischer hit another 3-pointer for a 24-23 lead. Travis Long scored twice to make it a five-point halftime advantage.
Haugen said he believes it’s the first time G-Prep has won a state opener since he’s been head coach.
“It was great to beat a team like that,” Nicholas said.