Scoreless midway in overtime and with its star big man drawing a heavy crowd inside, Auburn found help in a fearless freshman wearing zero.
Kaden Lewis emerged late Thursday night, draining back-to-back 3-pointers and coming up with a crucial strip-and-steal in the extra period to push Auburn past Auburn Mountainview 60-58 in a North Puget Sound League Olympic Division boys basketball game.
The Trojans won their fourth straight game to improve to 5-1 in the division race, 7-1 overall. The Lions, despite an inspired performance at home, dropped to 0-6 and 1-8.
“I was ready to step up and hit the shots,” said the 6-foot-3 Lewis, one of six freshmen on the Trojans roster and one of the team’s tallest ninth-graders who wears jersey No. 0. “I was excited. I was kind of feeling it, feeling hot at that moment.
“I was excited for my first rivalry game. It was awesome.”
Auburn, which had opened an eight-point lead midway in the third quarter, was hanging on and needed every bit of some scoring help down the stretch.
Isaiah Dunn, the Trojans’ go-to 6-5 senior force, finished with 29 points and 12 rebounds but couldn’t do it alone.
With his team struggling to find the bottom of the net in the extra period, Lewis was ready to pull the trigger.
After Que Daniels opened the four-minute overtime with a trey to give the Lions a 56-53 lead, Lewis drilled a 3-pointer from the wing to tie it. Brandon Miguel drove for two to put the Lions up 58-56. But Lewis responded with a deep 3-pointer from beyond the top of the key with 1:06 remaining, then stole the ball from Miguel on the Lions’ next possession.
At the other end of the floor, Dunn, fouled low, sank one of two free throws with 14.5 seconds left for a 60-58 lead. The Trojans held on as the Lions fought but couldn’t unleash a good shot before the final buzzer sounded.
“Kaden made some good shots for us. We needed that because they were giving Isaiah a lot of attention inside. Every time he touched it, he had three or four guys around him,” said Auburn coach Ryan Hansen. “It was nice to see (Lewis) knock down some shots from the perimeter. He’s certainly capable of doing that. He’s a gamer. He isn’t afraid to take good shots in big moments.”
A year ago, Lewis was playing for Mt. Baker Middle School, and, after a summer of hard work on the court, competed and won a spot on varsity. So far this season, he has become a key contributor off the bench.
“I was pretty excited. I felt like I belonged,” Lewis said of making varsity.
Lewis finished with nine points. Dae’Kwon Watson, a starting 5-9 freshman guard, had 12 points, and Maleek Arington, a starting 5-10 freshman guard, added seven points.
For Auburn Mountainview, Daniels, a junior guard, led the way with 22 points. Miguel finished with 11 points and Ayub Mirreh had seven points.
Watson buried back-to-back 3-pointers during a third-period stretch in which Auburn took a 40-32 lead.
But the Lions overcame a rash of turnovers and hit some clutch shots in the fourth quarter to pull even and force overtime.
William Luck hit a free throw and drove inside for the tying basket with 14 seconds left in regulation to knot it at 53-53. Auburn missed on two shots in the closing seconds, sending the game into overtime.
The Lions had trouble containing Dunn.
“We knew coming in the focal point was going to be the Dunn kid. And he killed us,” said Lions coach Matt Sinnes. “He’s big, physical, something we don’t have.
“We had too many dumb turnovers down the stretch, but I’m really proud of our kids and our effort,” he said. “We never gave up. There’s a lot to learn from. This is a young group. (We have) some stuff to build on.”
Like their rivals, the youthful Trojans grew up with some lesson learned from a tight-fisted game.
“In some respects, I told the guys, this is a great game for us because, with the exception of Enumclaw, we’ve really had our way a little bit with teams, having won by 20-point margins,” Hansen said. “To get into a game where we had to grind it out … and get defensive stops are games we are going to see come playoff time.”
Sinnes knows the division race will be a scramble, with several schools chasing heralded and nationally ranked Federal Way.
“Anybody in our league can beat anybody on any given night if you show up and play hard and take care of the ball,” he said. “It’s that time of the year when everyone’s tired and you’ve got to find some grit to grind out a win. We always seem to come out on the short end of the stick.”