Early in the third quarter, Martin Luther King Jr. was forced to call a timeout when guard Chris Sanchez got hurt.
Sanchez’s injury notwithstanding, the timeout worked out for the best.
Martin Luther King Jr. came out of the timeout and scored 13 straight points in a span of about two minutes. The Tigers went on to beat Section 5’s University Prep of Rochester, 56-53, in a Class D state semifinal at the Glens Falls Civic Center Friday.
Even so, the Tigers needed a pair of free throws by Sanchez and another by Jermaine Shaw in the final minute to move on.
Martin Luther King Jr., which won a state title in 2005, meets Section 2 champ Argyle for the championship Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
“I told just them to relax,” head coach Scott Green said of the timeout. “Just play basketball, just play defense.”
U-Prep had been having success from beyond the arc. The Tigers forced the Griffins inside after that timeout and created a number of turnovers.
Guard Peter Hargrove, who scored a game-high 21 points, said Green told them to attack the basket. That’s what they did.
Rajien Griffin, who had 11 points in the game, started the run off with a 3-pointer.
“I started feeling it,” Griffin said. “I just had to trust my teammates and we did it.”
Hargrove scored on a jumper and then a putback after Dashawn Johnson hit one free throw and missed the second. Hargrove hit a 3-pointer and a layup to account for nine points of the 13-0 run.
“I was just feeling it today,” Hargrove said. “The last two games were bad for me. I picked it up and scored big for the team.
“We weren’t playing with our heads. We were playing with our hearts. We had to just play with our heads and just get back into the game.”
Hargrove stressed the execution; he said that was the key for the Tigers, particularly defensively. They hadn’t been playing their game until that point and then they took off. Martin Luther King Jr. outscored U-Prep 26-13 in the third quarter.
U-Prep, a team of sophomores, freshmen and eighth-graders, wasn’t ready to give up that easily, though. The Griffins have battled back from deficits and through overtime periods throughout the season.
“They’ve been in that position before,” U-Prep head coach Raheem Miller said. “I knew they could come back. I’m just sad that we came up short.”
The Griffins tied it at 53-53 on a 3-pointer by eighth-grader Marique Simkin with about a minute to play. Sanchez then hit two free throw and Shaw added another to give the Tigers a 56-53 lead, but U-Prep still had one last chance.
Cameron Myles, who scored 19 points, threw up a shot as time expired, but it clanked off the rim and U-Prep’s chance at a state title in its first varsity season went with it.
Knowing they had already come from behind gave the Tigers confidence in their ability to hold on, Hargrove said.
“You gotta shake the jitters off, shake the nerves off and just play. We got a ‘W’ and that’s all that matters, ” he said.
“I had the confidence in my team but I knew it wasn’t over yet until I heard the buzzer,” Griffin added.