HILLSBORO – Churchill's prospects were turning grim near the end of regulation against Barlow in the first round of the Les Schwab Invitational boys basketball tournament Thursday at Liberty High School.
The Lancers had frittered away all of a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, and with their starting point guard, sophomore Samaje Morgan, fouled out, overtime was a daunting proposition.
Fortunately for Churchill (5-0), senior guard Silas Bennion averted a total collapse by hitting a three-pointer with four seconds left for a 55-52 win over the Bruins (2-3). The Lancers, ranked No. 1 in the OSAAtoday 5A coaches poll, advance to a quarterfinal against Norcross (Ga.) at 4 p.m. Friday.
It was the first game-winning shot for Bennion.
“I finally got one,” said Bennion, who had nine points, four rebounds and three steals. “I'm not going to lie, I wanted to take the last shot when they tied it up. I believe in myself.”
Bennion had missed his first four three-point attempts before coming through in the clutch.
“Great shot by Silas at the end,” Churchill coach Kelly Bokn said. “We were going to run a different set call, but it got broken up. We were coming up to set a ball screen for him, and he just felt room. He's a confident enough player. I'm glad he hit his first one right there.”
Senior guard Brian Goracke scored all 16 of his points in the second half and Morgan added 10 points for Churchill. The Lancers, who return their starting lineup intact from last season's 5A runner-up team, were able to turn back the 6A Bruins despite shooting an uncharacteristic 3 for 18 from three-point range.
“It's good for our kids to keep their heads and find a way to squeak one out,” Bokn said. “A good, mature win for a pretty senior-laden group to pull it out when we didn't feel like we played our best.”
Last year, Barlow outgunned Churchill 94-85 in overtime in the tournament, and with both teams loaded with offensive firepower, it appeared that Thursday's game would be another shootout. But the teams started cold, combining to shoot 2 for 23 from deep in a first half that ended with Barlow up 20-18.
Churchill seized control in the third quarter, scoring in transition and off drives by the 5-foot-8 Morgan. The Lancers made all eight of their two-point attempts in the quarter and pushed the lead to 41-26 on a three-pointer by Goracke, their first triple of the game.
“We just went into the locker room and regrouped and got our team together,” Morgan said. “We just played how we usually play on an every-day basis.”
Bokn said that his team “finally relaxed and started knocking down shots. We have really good shooters, we were just tight, for whatever reason. I feel like we finally got our legs under us, and kind of took a deep breath and started making some shots.”
Goracke, who missed his three shots in the first half, stirred to life with nine points in the third quarter.
“It was tough to get in the flow, for both teams, really,” Goracke said. “I wasn't really getting shots up, and I was missing, too, so that didn't help. I just had to turn the switch on.”
But Barlow gained traction in the fourth quarter behind senior guard Evan Inglesby, who had a game-high 24 points.
The 6-4 Inglesby scored eight consecutive points to draw the Bruins within 43-37 and converted a steal into a basket to cut the lead to 50-48 with 1:12 remaining. After a technical foul on Churchill senior Kaelen O'Neil, Inglesby hit two free throws and senior Jesse White banked in a jumper to tie 52-52 with 30 seconds left.
Churchill had struggled to get good shots after Morgan fouled out an on offensive foul with two minutes left, but Bennion saved the Lancers with his deep three from the right side.
Barlow called timeout with 1.8 seconds to go, but managed only a half-court heave from White, which fell well short.
“That fourth quarter, we just got in foul trouble, and block-charge calls against us,” Bokn said. “Barlow did a good job of jumping in front of us, and we didn't do a good job of putting the brakes on.”
Barlow shot 34 percent, including 8 of 32 from behind the arc. The normally sharpshooting White was 4 of 18 from the field, making 1 of 10 three-point attempts, and finished with 14 points.
“I'm not making excuses, but Jesse's been really sick the last week,” Barlow coach Tom Johnson said. “He's arguably one of the best players I've ever coached. So hopefully he'll get a little bit better these next few days.”
The rise of Morgan has given Churchill a new dimension this year. After coming off the bench as a freshman, he has moved into the starting lineup to replace senior point guard Isaiah Wallace, who suffered a knee injury in the summer. Wallace is expected back sometime in the middle of next month, according to Bokn.
“He's stepped it up,” Goracke said of Morgan. “Samaje played with me in the summer AAU, for Elite 24, so he was playing 17U all summer. So that helped him a lot, to step in and be comfortable, He's always been capable, and now he's really showing it.”
Morgan said he brings an attacking mentality.
“I can attack and kick, and attack and get any layup I want to,” Morgan said. “It just helps our team every single time I get into the paint.”
Bokn said that Morgan “puts a lot of pressure on the other team. If he sees a crack in the defense, he can get there. He's finishing around the rim.”
Churchill's lineup is filled with players who can get their own offense.
“We don't have a true big man, but we have a lot of guards, a lot of good shooters,” Goracke said. “I think our ceiling is really high, and we're not there yet, not even close.”
To get there, the Lancers “just need to play together,” according to Bennion.
“We have a bunch of individually talented players,” Bennion said. “When we play together offensively and defensively,. unselfish, no one can beat us.”