Four hours prior to the start of Tuesday night's boys basketball game between Tuscarora High School and visiting Oakdale, Titans coach Pat Cook said that the wrist Lamell Washington injured back in December was “about 90 percent,” but when the senior took jumpers it still hurt and his shot was still not quite right. At the time, that seemed a pretty reasonable assessment. By 7:02 p.m., it looked a lot different.
In the opening minutes of a long-awaited rematch with top-ranked Oakdale, Washington hit a layup and converted two 3-pointers — one with Oakdale star Zach Thomas practically breathing on him — to put No. 2 Tuscarora up 8-2 before the Bears really knew what hit them.
Now, Washington would cool (sort of) along with the Titans. Oakdale, meanwhile, was a model of equanimity, recovering and even taking a sizeable lead midway through the second quarter. But in the end, Tuesday's rematch between the county's top two teams displayed just how valuable a healthy Washington can be as the Titans pulled out a 63-58 victory on the strength of a 20 point and 20 rebound performance from their senior leader.
“They know we're better than them,” Washington said. “We came out and we proved it.”
Contributions were turned in by committee for Tuscarora. Joe Findly hauled in 13 rebounds, blocked four shots and chipped in eight points. Carney Bernard and Anthony Naylor provided a combined 20 points when the offense was in desperate need of a spark and Kwa McDonald locked down Thomas, the county's leading scorer, in the fourth quarter, allowing zero points and just two shot attempts which caused all sorts of problems for the Bears on offense.
“As much as I'd love to give credit to Lamell because he's a great player, Kwa McDonald's been playing great, Carney Bernard played an excellent game, Joe Findly played an excellent game,” Cook said. “It's not Lamell and everybody else, it's Tuscarora, and we take pride in playing team basketball.”
This wasn't just some run-of-the-mill game, either. Washington had this one marked off since Jan. 8, when Oakdale used a brilliant third quarter to supplant the then-No. 1 Titans, 56-50.
“This is definitely the redemption game,” Washington said. “We came to win today. That was our last loss. It left a bad taste in our mouth so we came out on top.”
Since that loss, Tuscarora has obliterated everything in its path save for a three-point victory over Gov. Thomas Johnson, which was the only of seven teams to stick within single digits of the Titans. But Tuesday's win was the one they needed and the one they have been counting down the days to for nearly a month. It was also the one they almost let slip away.
Oakdale ran off a 26-7 run after the Titans' scorching start to take a 28-17 lead — the largest held by either team all night. But Bernard knocked down a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws and then Naylor, to cap a bizarre sequence of plays, buried a body-contorting 3-pointer at the buzzer to draw the game back to within one.
The next 13 minutes were a mess of six lead changes and six ties until, with just less than three minutes remaining, Findly hit a basket and-1 off an offensive rebound, missed the ensuing free throw, grabbed that rebound, drew a foul, and buried both of those free throws to grant the Titans a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
“That was a hell of a game,” Oakdale coach Terry Connolly said. “These are supposed to be the two best teams in the county, it should come down to a game like that. Unfortunately, one team wins one team loses.”
Tuscarora 63, Oakdale 58
Tuscarora 17 15 17 14 — 63
Oakdale 18 15 16 9 — 58
Tuscarora (15-3; 10-2): Lamell Washington 20; Carney Bernard 10; Anthony Naylor 10; Marcus Anderson 8; Joe Findly 8; Kwa McDonald 7.
Oakdale (15-3; 11-1): Zach Thomas 21; Clay Conner 15; Kevin Heine 12; Jonathan Hoyle 3; Brian James 3; John Bush 2; Julius Simpson 2.