BELLEVUE — Nolan Hickman kept his distance last week.
The Eastside Catholic junior has been close friends with O’Dea junior Paolo Banchero since childhood. The pair ran track, played football and, of course, basketball against and with each other so much, they know each other’s tendencies.
With the Class 3A SeaKing District boys basketball championship on the line Saturday night, Hickman put the friendship on ice to not give away any possible advantages. Especially since Eastside beat O’Dea twice already this season.
Make it three.
As expected, Banchero and the Fighting Irish elevated their game against Eastside. But the result was still Eastside (22-3) winning, this time 79-71 before a standing-room-only crowd at Bellevue College.
“Their energy was through the roof this time,” Hickman said of O’Dea, which lost 83-74 to Eastside during the regular season in January and 85-62 in the Metro League tournament semifinals last week. “They came out and punched us in the mouth it felt like. We had to settle down and come together to win it.”
O’Dea (20-5) built its biggest lead of the game, 51-42, after a three-pointer from junior Dezjay Perkins with 4:40 left in the third quarter. Hickman, who finished with a game-high 26 points and 13 assists, began to work the ball around more to get the Crusaders back in the game.
Hickman’s dish to senior Chika Nduka in the paint gave Eastside a 56-55 lead with 12 seconds left in the third. But Banchero answered with a bucket with seconds left on the clock to close the third quarter up 57-56.
The turning point happened with 4:49 left when O’Dea coach Jason Kerr was called for a technical foul for arguing about a discrepancy in fouls called. Eastside junior Shane Nowell made the two free throws and, when Eastside was also awarded the ball, Hickman found junior JT Tuimoloau for a layin.
The shot gave Eastside a 66-64 lead with 4:25 remaining, and the Crusaders never trailed again.
“It might not have seemed like it, but that was really big,” Hickman said of the technical. “It was a good position for us to get four points.”
Banchero, a five-star recruit, finished with 24 points and teammate John Christofilis had 21 points.
If it weren’t for O’Dea’s dejected faces after the final horn, it would have been hard to know who won the game. Eastside wasn’t celebratory, the players saying it’s because Saturday’s championship isn’t the title the Crusaders want.
Both teams qualified for the state tournament and will play in the regional round next week.
“We’re the most competitive people we know,” Banchero said recently of Hickman. “Even though we’re best friends and brothers, we want to beat each other every time we see each other.
“These past two years, O’Dea has gotten better than Eastside and I think Nolan took that personally and kept that in the back of his mind. … He’s definitely found motivation in that, especially us knocking them out of the playoffs last year. We’ve just got to match his intensity and competitiveness.”
Eastside girls hold off Garfield
Eastside Catholic (24-1) withstood one of their strongest challenges of the season to defeat Garfield 52-45 to win the program’s first Class 3A SeaKing District girls championship.
Both teams will play at regionals next week. The Crusaders, who won the Metro League title last week, are making their first trip to state since 2002.
Garfield (18-7) closed within 40-38 after a three-pointer from senior Kira Wood with 7:31 left in the game. The Bulldogs missed their following three shot attempts and had a turnover to keep from using the momentum to tie or take a lead.
Eastside freshman guard Malia Samuels led four players in double figures with 12 points. Wood led Garfield with 14 points.