For the second time this season, the Ketchikan boys basketball team won a thriller at the buzzer on their home floor.
This time it was a driving layup by Alex Pihl as time expired that gave the Kings an electrifying 48-46 win over Thunder Mountain. Last time, it was a 3-point basket by Matt Standley that gave Kayhi a rousing 44-42 victory over Klawock.
“Everybody is going to look at that last second shot, but that game was won with the heart and soul of all 15 guys,” Pihl said. “Everybody from 1 to 15 contributed to this win.”
Pihl’s layup capped an exhilarating exchange of baskets in the closing seconds. Kayhi senior Colton Paulsen drained a cold-hearted 3 from the top of the key to put Kayhi ahead 46-44 with 11 seconds to play. Thunder Mountain answered with senior Matt Seymour driving the length of the court and scoring to tie the game with 4 seconds remaining, silencing the Ketchikan crowd.
With a potential overtime frame looming, Paulsen inbounded the ball to Pihl, who quickly drove into the lane and released the ball just before the buzzer for a game-winning layup.
“I knew that I had time for four or five dribbles, then I had to get rid of the ball, or for three dribbles and then a pass for a quick shot,” Pihl said. “Coach drew the play up. I was expecting them to at least double team me, but they didn’t.”
Pihl had several options on the play, but when no double team came to force him to give up the ball, he went for the basket.
“I was glad he took it to the rim,” Paulsen said. “There was no one on him. He is our best player and that is the shot you want him to take.”
The clock ran down to 1.4 seconds after Seymour’s basket, but officials reset it to four seconds. The same thing happened after Paulsen’s 3-pointer. The clock ran down to 9.3 seconds, but officials reset it to 11 seconds for the Falcons.
Just like the Kings, the Falcons inbounded the ball to their top scorer and Seymour raced the length of the court before fighting his way inside and laying the ball in off the glass.
“We ran the same thing they did,” Thunder Mountain coach John Blasco said. “You want your two best players getting the ball and attacking. They both happened to make the basket; I just wish Pihl hadn’t.”
While the driving layup has been a big part of Pihl’s arsenal this year, Paulsen’s 3-pointer was the bigger surprise. After Thunder Mountain had taken a 44-43 lead when Ryan Lee hit 1 of 2 free throws with 26.6 second to play, the Kings brought the ball up court and patiently began to run through their offense. Paulsen got the ball just to the right side of the top of the key without a defender near him and let fly with a 3-pointer that swished through the hoop.
“It’s awesome,” Paulsen said. “You always dream about those games where you hit a big shot and you win a tight game at the buzzer. That’s my spot. I’ve been working on my shooting for the past four weeks. I’ve been in the gym for fourth period shooting every single day.”
Paulsen was hobbling throughout the game, injuring his right leg early on, then wincing as he brought his right hand down hard on the floor in the second quarter. The coaching staff took him out to be looked at and a visibly unhappy Paulsen yelled, “I’m fine. I’m fine. It was just a floor burn.”
After the game, Pihl and Paulsen both had bundles of ice strapped to their bodies.
“It’s a long season,” Pihl said. “And that was a tough game against a tough team.”
Asked if any part of his body didn’t hurt, Paulsen responded, “my shooting arm.”
The Kings weren’t going to win any beauty contests with Friday’s action. They struggled shooting the ball from outside. They were 11 of 23 from the free-throw line. Nothing came easy, but Ketchikan didn’t back down an inch against the taller Falcons. The Kings made the Falcons work for every point, and the Falcons returned the favor in an intense, physical battle.
“It was a regional championship atmosphere,” Ketchikan coach Eric Stockhausen said. “It had all the drama that you will see in March. Our kids were scrappy, and they battled.”
Blasco added, “It was a physical battle. Both teams attack and played extremely hard. Clearly everybody understands how much the conference means to each other. Ketchikan is a very tough matchup. They execute their game plan well. It is going to be a challenge for us tomorrow.”
Ketchikan (14-8 overall, 5-2 in the Southeast) has won seven straight games. The Kings can clinch the top seed in the region with a win on Saturday. Thunder Mountain (13-7, 3-2) would have the inside track to the top seed if they win. The Falcons have two conference games remaining against Juneau-Douglas.
All three Ketchikan-Thunder Mountain contests this season have come down to the final minutes, but Friday’s finish will be hard to top.
“There are very few buzzer-beaters you’ll see in your lifetime,” Stockhausen said. “We’ve had some heart-breaking losses, losing three region games on buzzer-beaters. This year we’ve been on the right side of a couple.”
Pihl led the Kings with 12 points, but was 4 of 9 from the free-throw line. Isaiah Navales added nine points, but struggled with his outside shooting, missing 10 3-point shots, including a handful that were wide-open looks that appeared to be on target.
Malik Almenzor had an efficient offensive night, adding nine big points to the Kayhi attack. Paulsen scored eight points. Mo Bullock was held to four points, but was a force inside on the boards against the taller Falcons. Thunder Mountain started five seniors with four players standing 6-3 or taller. Bullock, at 6-4, is the only Kayhi player taller than 6-2.
Seymour paced Thunder Mountain with 14 points, including 12 in the second half. Lee added 13 points. Josh Palmer scored seven points.
Kayhi 48, Thunder Mountain 46
Thunder Mountain (46): Uddipa 1 0-0 2; Saviers 0 2-2 2, Lee 4 5-6 13, Seymour 5 2-2 14, Palmer 2 3-4 7, Jahn 2 0-1 4, Nye 2 0-0 4. Totals 16 12-15 46. Three-point baskets: Seymour 2. Team fouls: 17. Fouled out: Jahn.
Ketchikan (48): Navales 2 5-7 9, Paulsen 3 1-3 8, Bullock 2 0-3 4, Pihl 4 4-9 12, Almenzor 4 1-1 9, Day 3 0-0 6. Totals: 18 11-23 48. Three-point baskets: Paulsen 1. Fouls: 14. Fouled out: None.
Thunder Mountain 13 6 13 14 — 46
Ketchikan 13 8 9 17 — 48