A year ago, it would have been inconceivable. But Friday night, a 57-second stretch that had "danger zone" written all over it ended up defining Hampton's 64-51 win over Petersburg in the Group AAA final.
With 3:03 remaining and the Crabbers clinging to a 49-43 lead, superstar guard Anthony Barber picked up his fourth foul. Hoping to buy a few precious seconds, Hampton assistant Eric Brown brought Barber to the bench — for the first time this postseason.
When Barber returned with 2:06 remaining, the Crabbers' lead was 53-47. The so-called supporting cast had maintained the margin in Barber's absence, which is all anyone realistically could have expected. And with confidence and composure, Hampton polished off an against-the-odds win.
"That was humongous," Brown said. "They showed tremendous poise with him not on the floor."
The Crabbers were able to put Petersburg and its boisterous crowd away with only two points from Barber — two free throws with 52 seconds left — in the fourth quarter. Crunch time was owned by underrated junior Jordan Baker and Jahmante Jackson, a senior who was coming off the bench until Feb. 10.
Baker was Mr. Clutch all year, from his off-balanced 3-pointer to force overtime against Menchville in the Peninsula District final to his game-changing trey with 69 seconds left against Nansemond River in the Eastern Region quarterfinals. Friday night was maybe his biggest moment.
With 1:47 remaining in the third quarter, Petersburg's Frank Mason capped a 7-0 run with a 3-pointer to tie the game at 35-all. It was a rare moment for the Crimson Wave's fans to stretch their lungs, and they did so by nearly caving in the Siegel Center's roof.
But 77 seconds later, with the score tied at 37, it was Baker's turn. Barber spotted him in front of the Crabbers' bench, and Baker knocked down the 3.
"Their crowd was in it, all their players were in it," said Baker, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the final 8:30. "That (3) just deflated the whole gym. It was a hush right after that."
That was the biggest shot, but it was Jackson's 3-pointer that was the dagger. The lead was 53-47 with 1:59 left when Jackson got an open look from the left wing. Never shy, he knocked it down.
"Humongous," Brown said, apparently using the word of the night.
Jackson is an interesting story. After becoming a starter when Cam Perry sprained his ankle in the final game of the regular season, Jackson averaged 10 points a game in 10 games. He was averaging 3.5 a game at the time of Perry's injury.
"If I had to (pick) an MVP of our postseason, it would be Jahmante Jackson," Brown said. "What he brought to us was big 3 after big 3. He was the MVP of this postseason run because he glued us together."
For the second game in a row, the Crabbers had four scorers in double figures. They shot 42 percent from the field and committed only five turnovers, one of which was an offensive foul.
And Hampton never trailed, which kept the Petersburg crowd from getting into it.
"We just play our game, whether it's loud or not," Barber said. "We just feed off each other and listen to our coach. We go on the floor and do what we have to do.
"We knew we were a state championship team. The coaches had faith in us, and we had faith in each other."
Playing essentially a road game in front of nearly 8,000 fans didn't faze the Crabbers.
"We never have fear," Barber said. "I don't care if we play the Lakers … no fear."
"I got Kobe," Baker chimed in.
Baker, along with Sammie Royal and backup Jeff Barnes, had a tough enough assignment in Petersburg's Frank Mason. It was Mason who electrified the crowd Wednesday with 37 points, 16 coming in the first four minutes, in a win over Kecoughtan.
Hampton didn't try to stop Mason, and it didn't: He had 28 points on 9-of-20 shooting. But the Crabbers made him work. Not only that, they didn't let anyone else get involved. The rest of the Crimson Wave's lineup went 5-of-24 from the field.
"We knew if we locked down the other guys and didn't let them pick and poke at us," Brown said, "We'd keep them under control."
Truthfully, few expected Hampton go get this far, let alone win it all. But with commitment to defense and a team-first approach, the Crabbers did.
"We believed we were talented enough to win the state championship," Brown said. "And these guys believed. What it was going to take was everyone getting better around Anthony. And he had to get better on trusting his teammates. Everyone did their job, and that's why we're here now."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times