Whitmore took charge in the second half, finishing with 25 points to help secure a 61-58 victory. Finishing strong in a big game is just a continuation of the four-star recruit’s breakout season.
“I thought that coach [Josh] Pratt told us to run where I move the ball and that would get us going on the offensive end,” Whitmore said. “All we had to do was move the ball and in the second half, [and] we executed that. We pulled out strong.”
His teammate Tyheil Peterson had a strong performance as well, finishing with 12 points. The guard’s most important shot came in the fourth quarter.
With less than three minutes left, Peterson passed the ball back and forth with his teammates. The ball landed back into his hands at the top of the 3-point arc, and he rose up and sank the shot to give Spalding a 59-52 lead. He came back down on the defensive end and made several stops on Goretti’s top scorer Vincent Payne to help cement the victory.
“I think that in the first half, we were off,” Peterson said. “We had a lot of missed layups, but we were able to go out there and turn it up in the end. I just try to do everything to help my team win. That’s offensively or defensively. [Vincent Payne] is a great player, so kudos to him.”
Pratt pulled several of his players to the side throughout the game. There were defensive miscues, especially on Payne’s three 3-pointers in the second half. As the game went on, Pratt switched up his defense from zone to man-to-man and back to zone to attempt to confuse Goretti’s quick attack.
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“The focus is, since we were up three, we had to have no threes and tried to run them off of the line and have no fouls,” Pratt said. “Defending the pick-and-roll was an issue, so we tried to switch it a little bit, blitz them and tried to change it up. We’ve got to execute better, but it’s hard because it’s been awhile since we’ve been this high of a seed. So, for us to handle all of the success that we’ve had in the last two years [is great].
“Goretti didn’t want their season to end. Give them credit, give their coach credit. They really executed and hit shots.”
In the first quarter, Spalding (12-2) and Goretti (6-8) struggled to make field goals. Peterson led with three points to give Spalding a 7-4 lead. Both teams woke up in the second quarter with Whitmore scoring 10 points and Peterson adding five more. Payne ended the half with six and Jahsan Johnson had five for Goretti to cut the deficit to 25-17 at halftime.
Spalding continued to keep its lead at the end of the third quarter after Whitmore scored eight more points. Payne bumped up his scoring with seven additional points and Jordan Nkoa-Abessolo had five off of the bench. The duo of Whitmore and Peterson helped close it out with stout defensive play and important 3-pointers.
Goretti coach Sidney McCray saw his team cut the deficit to just three points in the closing seconds. While his team’s season came down to one missed 3-point shot by Nkoa-Abessolo, he was proud of the fight that they showed in the closing moments.
“We scrapped and we came up with a game plan for these guys,” McCray said. “Granted, we only played these guys once and usually in the regular season it’s two, but we came up with a scheme. The guys stuck to it man. It wasn’t anything special, we just came out and played our butts off tonight. I’m super proud of our guys. This is the first time we actually played a whole 32 minutes of a basketball game this season.”