Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Sunday’s Empire sports section.
It might have been just an exhibition with each of the combatants already guaranteed a berth in their respective state tournaments, but both teams played like it was their last.
Juneau-Douglas forward Colin Gozelski jumped in the paint and tipped the ball to the rim off a Phillip Fenumiai full-court pass from the baseline with .3 seconds remaining, only to watch it glance off the iron before Mt. Edgecumbe students rushed the court in celebration of their team’s 44-42 win over the Crimson Bears in the finale of the Region V 3A/4A Basketball Tournament on Saturday night at Juneau-Douglas High School.
The Bears nearly completed an improbable comeback in the final seconds of the game as junior Tony Yadao drilled a 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left to cut the Braves lead to 43-42 before JDHS fouled Mt. Edgecumbe junior forward Travante Williams with .3 remaining.
Williams hit the first free throw, but in an effort to miss the second intentionally he missed the rim, giving the ball to the Bears with no time elapsed. Fenumiai’s pass was on point, but a deflection by Alec Calloway and the tip by Gozelski fell short as the Bears fell in their final home game.
“We knew Mt. Edgecumbe was talented, we’ve seen them twice before. For whatever reason we were not locked in,” Bears coach Steve Potter said. “Being down five points at half doesn’t seem like a big deal, but against them it was. We made errors down the stretch. Hopefully this is an eye-opener. We need to focus on the task at hand.”
Juneau-Douglas had several costly turnovers down the stretch of a close game that Mt. Edgecumbe led most of the way. But the Braves never led by more than seven points, and that was in the first quarter.
“We had some mindless turnovers, but I think the guys played hard and maybe it was fatigue that was a factor,” Potter said. “I thought we got a lot out of our matchups, it was an extremely physical game and I thought we eventually got them to do what we wanted them to do, but it didn’t happen quickly.
“We played hard, just not particularly well.”
But this was just an exhibition, and in about two weeks the Crimson Bears will head up north to test their mettle against the best in the state. Potter said he knows what his team needs to be successful.
“We need to be in the game, mentally, and we need to be focused. We can’t have unforced errors,” he said. “Teams are good enough to force errors so we can’t just give the ball away for nothing.
Gozelski led the Bears in scoring with 13 points, but was the only player in double figures. Williams’ 14 points were a game high.