Trying to extend their comeback season, the Unity Christian boys’ basketball team switched to fouling its opponent to force them to the line with three-and-a-half minutes to go.
And for a few fleeting moments, the game plan paid off, but the Lions couldn’t close the gap all the way as they lost 62-54 to Fullington Academy in the opening round of the GICAA Division 1-A state playoffs.
Unity was down 45-35 when head coach Matt Claytor called for his players to begin fouling the visiting Trojans when the ball got in their hands. Fullington took at 51-35 lead but then began missing shots, opening the door for Unity.
The Lions took advantage of the Trojans’ lull on the other end and went on a 9-2 run. Brayden Dean then hit two 3-pointers in the final minute of play, the last of which made it 60-54 with 27 seconds left.
It would be the final points for Unity, but Claytor was proud of his team and what they accomplished this season.
“Not being able to knock down shots in the first half put us in a hole, and we weren’t able to dig out of that,” he said. “But they kept fighting the whole time. They never gave up, and that’s a testament to our seniors and how hard they’ve worked over the last four years.”
The five seniors — Graham Wisener, Samuel Yadkowski, Janson Slaughter, Mark Whitehead and Josiah Petro — helped Unity go from six wins a season ago to 15 this season, including finishing second in the region tournament.
“They’ve set the standard for hard work over the last four years,” Claytor said. “They may not have been the most talented group I’ve had, but they were most definitely the hardest working group.”
Petro finished with 17 points before fouling out in the fourth period. Dean scored 17 points as well, hitting three 3’s in the final quarter.
Fullington worked to control possession of the ball early, working the ball on the outside before setting up a shot. They went in more often than not, causing frustration on the Unity bench.
The Trojans took a 12-10 lead after the first and then went up 30-19 at halftime after Jaden Haney hit three 3’s in the final two-and-a-half minutes of the half.
“Percentage-wise they were about a 27-percent free-throw shooting team, so we decided to pack them in the box and they knocked down five 3’s in the first half,” Claytor said.
“We just had to adjust and start getting after their shooters, getting after it like we had the last four years. Finish strong with no regrets.”
Unity (15-8) came back out and outscored Fullington 13-7 in the third period, lifted by Petro’s performance attacking the basket, and cut the deficit to 37-32. But the Trojans gained back their momentum to start the final period, going on an 8-2 run.
The Trojans, already in the bonus to start the fourth, went to the line 17 times in the last eight minutes of the game and went 17-of-31. Unity was 3-of-8 for the entire game.