MERCER ISLAND – For as ugly as it began, the end result turned beautiful for the Mercer Island boys basketball team Friday.
A tightly called contest made for a disjointed first half. But when it counted, the Islanders finished with a flourish en route to a 51-40 Kingco 3A/2A victory over Lake Washington.
Mercer Island (15-4, 11-2), No. 8 in 3A, solidified its hold on second place in the league. The Kangaroos (12-5, 9-3), No. 7 in 2A, slipped further back in third.
“This was a big game for us,” Mercer Island senior Kaleb Warner said. “We didn’t want to lose to them again, especially on our home floor. We haven’t lost here all year.”
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Lake Washington had broken open a close game earlier this season to beat the Islanders soundly. The teams will not meet in the playoffs, being in different classifications.
Mercer Island concludes its regular-season schedule at home Tuesday, trying to stay unbeaten against league-leading Bellevue.
“It’s a rivalry game,” Islanders coach Gavin Cree said. “It’s senior night and a pride game.”
Whistles kept either team from finding any rhythm early on Friday. More than 20 fouls were called in the first half, including the first seven of the game against Lake Washington before the first quarter was six minutes old.
That translated into a meager 7-4 lead for Mercer Island after one quarter.
After Wonjun Im scored the game’s first basket on a driving layup off the opening tip for the Kangaroos, Lake Washington didn’t lead again until Jeffrey Staudacher buried a three-pointer with 3:30 to play in the game.
That basket put Lake Washington on top 37-36. It’s a lead that lasted all of 24 seconds.
Jake Stenberg came back immediately for Mercer Island, driving hard to the rim and getting fouled. His two free throws put the Islanders back in front 38-37 and started the decisive 15-3 run to end the game.
Stenberg added a three-pointer on Mercer Island’s next trip, then Jamal Muhammad countered with a layup for the Kangaroos with 2:09 left to cut the lead to 41-39.
That’s when Warner stepped up.
With 1:36 left, the ball bounced around and ended up in the Mercer Island senior’s hands. To that point, Warner had made just one field goal and had only eight points. But he stroked the three-pointer to increase the Islanders’ advantage to 44-39.
Warner then tipped the ball away on Lake Washington’s next possession, causing a turnover that led to a breakaway layup for David Emanuels and a 46-39 lead.
“We knew he would be able to finally hit one,” Cree said. “Then he did, right in front of our bench like that. It was a big senior play.”
With the lead, Mercer Island opened things up offensively and expanded the margin as the game ended.
“Once we got a little cushion, we spread it out,” Cree said. “That’s what we like to do. We made a couple of stops and got loose to the basket twice.”
And took a 1½ game lead for second place with just a week to go in the regular season. The Kingco League tournament begins next Saturday.