It wasn’t the way Bellevue Wolverines boys basketball head coach Chris O’Connor drew it up in the huddle, but the end result couldn’t have been sweeter for his squad against the rival Mercer Island Islanders.
With 41.4 seconds left in regulation, Mercer Island forward Giovanni Cervantes-Rocha recorded a basket, cutting Bellevue’s lead to 58-57. O’Connor immediately called timeout and designed a play in the post for the 6-foot, 6-inch Andrew Kenny. The plan was to get Kenny the ball in the paint to extend the lead to three points with under 10 seconds left in regulation.
It never happened.
Mercer Island’s defense covered Kenny proficiently and as the shot clock continued to wind down. Bellevue junior guard Jalen Love, who was perfectly positioned beyond the three-point line, was all alone in the corner after receiving a pass from one of his teammates. Love swished a three-point attempt with just 5.6 seconds left in regulation, extending Bellevue’s lead to 61-57.
Neither team would score in the final 5.6 seconds as Bellevue held on for a 61-57 triumph on Jan. 3 at Bellevue High School. Bellevue improved their overall record to 8-3 with the victory while Mercer Island dropped to 4-7 overall. Love finished with 15 points in the contest.
O’Connor was thrilled Love had the confidence to take the wide open shot to seal the win.
“We set it up to get Andrew (Kenny) the ball underneath the basket but they (Mercer Island defense) all collapsed on him. Jalen had a free look so he took it. Jalen is a gamer so that is not a bad shot for him,” O’Connor said with pride.
The Wolverines, who took an early 17-12 in the first quarter, found themselves trailing the Islanders 36-30 early in the third quarter. O’Connor then decided to unleash a full-court pressure defense. The move paid dividends as the Wolverines outscored the Islanders 18-5 in the final four minutes of the third period, taking a 48-41 lead with just the fourth quarter left to play.
“We picked them up full-court to try to get them to play faster and create some turnovers. It worked for a little bit and then they settled down so we had to look to something else after they got used to it,” O’Connor said.
The Islanders outscored the Wolverines 16-13 in the final eight minutes of regulation but couldn’t complete the comeback bid. Bellevue point guard Spencer Birkeland, who finished with a team-high 19 points, hit two key three-pointers in the final eight minutes of regulation, which helped keep the Wolverines ahead.
Mercer Island head coach Gavin Cree was proud of his team’s valiant performance in defeat. Islanders’ senior Griffin Emanuels, junior guard William Lee and senior forward Rainer McDonald consistently made timely baskets against the Wolverines formidable defense.
“We got better today,” Cree said. “We proved to ourselves that despite some of the setbacks we’ve had, that we continue to battle and we’re getting better.”
Mercer Island has battled the injury bug during the 2017-18 season. Mercer Island senior guard Ethan Eason suffered a season ending injury earlier this year and starter Joe Gormley is currently week-to-week with an injury as well.
“We’ve got some injuries to key players and we got two starters out,” Cree said. “We still were able to have a chance to win. That is a good sign. Bellevue is an outstanding team. We’ve shown that we can bounce back. We just have to keep it up and continue to get better.”