GOOCHLAND – When his teammate’s second free-throw attempt bounced up and down and stayed along the back of the rim, Whit Williams noticed there was no one under the basket.
The Benedictine senior cut around to the other side and rose up, getting his hand on the ball.
His tip-in attempt pushed the ball through the basket – and pushed his Cadets back into the lead with only 2 seconds left in regulation.
That’s where Benedictine stayed, as it completed its rally from a 13-point deficit near the top of the third quarter to overtake Peninsula Catholic 57-55.
It was a big win for the young Cadets, who not only improved to 3-2, but were also able to get the better of a Knights unit that came into the McMurtrie-Reynolds Pavilion with a 6-2 record.
“We can’t be any happier,” Benedictine coach Mark Royster said. “It’s us evolving, us getting better.”
He noted that this edition of the Cadets has only been playing together since Nov. 30, and with six new players on this team and some of them on JV last year, “this is not a familiar group,” because they didn’t play in either the summertime or the fall.
“We’re 40 days into it,” Royster said, “and I like where we’re at.”
“It feels great, especially against a team like this,” Williams said of the win. “I think, every single game, we’re just learning more and more.”
Williams double-doubled with 14 points and 10 rebounds and added a team-leading six assists. His teammate Anthony Fisher, in his second game back, not only led the Cadets with 17 points, but he also set up Williams’ game-winner.
With the game all tied up at 55-55 and the Knights moving the ball with under 12 seconds remaining in regulation, Fisher read the play and swooped in to steal the Knights’ pass along Fisher’s right side.
The multisport standout drew the foul in his approach to the paint, and while Fisher didn’t make his two free-throw attempts, his second miss turned into his team’s gain as Williams made sure it went in.
Fisher’s speed, his coach noted, changes the game for them, and he allowed them to spread the floor.
“He’s the one guy that can go from foul line to foul line and pass two or three guys on the way, and that sets everybody else up,” Royster said, “but he’s strong enough and he’s gotten so much better at recognizing when he has his opportunities.”
“We came out fighting, and our guards got us in the perfect positions the whole game,” Williams said, adding that they started noticing what their opponents were doing as the game went on. “That’s ultimately what got us the win, is noticing what set they were going to get in for Anthony to get that steal, and luckily get us out and get us going.”
Fisher totaled five steals on defense.
Peninsula Catholic in the early stages of the third quarter led 34-21, but from there, the Cadets caught fire. Fisher, Williams, Luca Puccinelli and Kris Tiller all combined for a 14-1 run with Williams netting an and-one to tie the game at 35-all.
The Knights got a 4-0 burst, but Tiller cut their lead back down with two from the free-throw line, and Fisher, flexing his speed, tore into the lane and drew the foul while netting 2. He knocked down the free throw to return the Cadets to the point for the first time since the first quarter.
The Knights went back ahead 54-50 with 2:04 to play, but the Cadets’ options and awareness on the offensive end, coupled with their strong answers for the Knights on the defensive side, put them right back in the game.
Puccinelli, who was a threat to score in the paint throughout the game, moved into the lane, and Fisher, instead of passing to Puccinelli, made the right read according to Royster; he capitalized on a look from behind the arc and let the long shot fly to net 3 and carve the visitors’ lead down to 1.
The Knights added a free throw, but Fisher flexed his speed again and drove for the basket.
But he didn’t go for the bucket himself. This time, he passed the ball to Puccinelli, who had once again put himself in the paint. Puccinelli hit the layup, tying the game at 55-55.
“As long as we’re making good, smart plays, we’re fine,” Royster said. “That’s what we want from them, and that’s them maturing and getting better as the season goes along.”
Puccinelli scored 14 points and Tiller chipped in 10. Senior Cody Herman added five assists and helped disrupt the Knights’ last-ditch attempt in the game to score.
Peninsula Catholic was led in scoring by Chris Brown, who netted 20 points.
As the Cadets’ players keep coming along, things will get better for everyone, Royster said.
“We have a really young team, and I think you can obviously see, even from the first game, how much our freshmen and our new guys are growing,” Williams added. “I think this is the most fun team I’ve played with, even with travel ball. It’s just a group of guys that just want to play. I just love being here.”
Benedictine will next play at the Carmel School on Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 5:30 p.m.