Unlikely hero: Webb advances to tourney final on late Smith jumper
Down one point with 14.4 seconds to play, everyone in the J.F. Webb gym knew what the Warriors had to do: Get the ball to Isaiah Hicks.
The 6-foot-9 North Carolina recruit, recently named a McDonald’s All-American, had already recorded 31 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in Wednesday’s 3-A Carolina Conference Tournament semifinal against Cardinal Gibbons.
Webb did get it to Hicks, but what came next only the Warriors could have seen coming. Hicks drew a double team at the top of the key, drove in to the right and drew more defenders before dishing to an open Bryan Smith on the baseline.
Normally the team’s sixth man, Smith had been used sparingly in the game and hadn’t scored a point. The senior collected the pass from his classmate, Hicks, and calmly knocked down a short jumper with four seconds to go, electrifying the Warrior faithful.
No. 3 Gibbons’ desperation heave didn’t come close and No. 2 Webb (21-4), powered by its unlikely hero, advanced to visit top-seeded Chapel Hill in the tourney final Friday at 8 p.m.
“It was probably the best feeling of my life ever,” said Smith, who was mobbed by teammates and fans after the buzzer. “We practice that shot a lot. When Isaiah gave me the ball, I knew I was going to take it because nobody was near me. I felt confident and it went in.”
Webb called for time after Gibbons’ Nick Holloway missed the front end of a one-and-one, setting up the final sequence.
Warrior coach Leo Brunelli said Smith was the third option.
“The play was drawn up in the timeout for Isaiah to get a shot on the baseline,” said Smith. “But it didn’t work out and he got the ball at the top of the key and everybody kind of collapsed on him.”
Hicks didn’t hesitate.
“I heard their coach call double team and four people were right there,” said Hicks. “When I jumped, I saw Bryan and I just went to him.”
Hicks wasn’t surprised Smith sank the shot. He said the Warriors practice it all the time.
Brunelli said he would have been more surprised if the shot didn’t go in.
Smith’s two were the only bench points for Webb, which withstood a 9-for-16 3-point shooting performance by Gibbons. The Crusaders were led by Patrick Domville’s 23 points (five 3s).
Gibbons, as it did in the previous 43-30 loss to Webb, tried to slow down the game’s pace. The result was a fresher group of Webb starters and Smith patiently waiting for his turn.
“You didn’t see him pouting,” said Brunelli. “He knew he would get his call. He knew he would be ready to step up. That’s what a senior captain does.”
The other senior captain didn’t try to take a shot he didn’t have, trusting his teammate to secure the win.
“He’s going to do whatever it takes for us to win,” Smith said of Hicks. “No matter what it takes — whether it’s going to be his shot, sit on the bench and cheer his teammates, score 60 points in a game — he’s going to do what it takes to win.”
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