Looking for scoring in a tightly contested, defense-dominated game against visiting John Carroll, McDonogh boys basketball coach David Gately turned to junior reserve guard Jaedon Willis in the fourth quarter.
Willis was ready and, more importantly, willing to take the big shots.
After seeing limited playing time in the second quarter, Willis opened the fourth quarter with two 3-pointers, added a driving layup and calmly sank two pivotal free throws with 20 seconds left. A timely 3-pointer by Noah Locke, a dunk by Bruce Moore and key stops on defense took care of the rest as host No. 7 McDonogh claimed a 45-43 win over No. 5 John Carroll in Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference play Friday.
Coming off a 59-51 loss at No. 1 St. Frances on Wednesday, the Eagles (14-5) desperately wanted to get back above .500 in league play and did so, improving to 5-4 in the Red Division. John Carroll, which got a game-high 15 points from sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley, fell to 13-6 and 6-2 in the Black Division.
"That is a huge win for the program," Gately said. "We were 4-4 in the league coming in, and [if] you tilt to 4-5, we might not make the playoffs and we still might not make the playoffs. This league, every night, you've got to come to play. So it's a great win. Go 5-4 instead of 4-5 — kind of pushes us forward with seven league games left."
With John Carroll's long and active zone defense forcing the Eagles to settle mostly for outside shots, it was often hit or miss for the Eagles throughout the game. In the fourth quarter, it was more hit.
Willis scored the Eagles' first eight points in the fourth quarter, hitting consecutive 3-pointers and then a layup in transition to give them a 38-36 lead with 3:16 to play. Locke (11 points) hit his 3-pointer with 2:24 left to break a tie, and Moore made it 43-38 with a dunk off an inbounds pass from Damian Chong-Qui with 1:46 to play.
The Patriots' Mike Tertsea dunked with 48 seconds to play before Willis hit two free throws to make it 45-40 with 20 seconds left.
Quickley nailed a 3-pointer with nine seconds remaining to cut the lead to 45-43. After Locke missed the front end of a one-and-one at the foul line with seven seconds left, the Panthers had one last chance, but Quickley's 3-pointer from above the key was closely defended and considerably off the mark.
Willis was happy to contribute in the game's important moments and help claim the big win.
"I really wasn't expecting to get back in there. I didn't know what my role was going to be," he said. "But when I got back in there, we weren't making shots, and I knew I had to come in and try to help the team win the game. They left me open, and I was able to knock down the shots. You just have to be ready for every moment because you never know."
Gately was impressed with the poise Willis showed.
"He was tremendous coming off the bench. He's been struggling from the perimeter, but I'll never tell a guy not to shoot the ball," Gately said. "You can see we let it fly, and if it goes, it goes, but you can't turn down open shots, and he had a lot of guts. I'm happy for him."
Chong-Qui got the Eagles off to a fast start, hitting three 3-pointers and adding another basket in the first quarter to help build a 17-11 lead. John Carroll scored the opening basket but didn't take the lead again until Tertsea opened the fourth quarter with two free throws for a 32-30 advantage.