BOYS BASKETBALL: Jefferson will play at districts for the first time since 1985 after OT win

The Thomas Jefferson Raiders' boys basketball team likes doing things the hard way.

The Raiders (11-9 overall) came from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the South Puget Sound League North Division-champion Tahoma Bears, 80-69, in overtime Friday night in their regular-season finale. The victory, in front of an electric crowd at TJ, assured the program of its first appearance at the West Central District Tournament since 1985.

"With the stakes as high as they were for our program the comeback was unbelievable," said head coach and TJ grad Kyle Templeton. "We had an insane environment. The place was packed. It was a great game and I am glad the kids and the student body and our supporters were able to experience that."

The top-four finishers in the SPSL North are guaranteed spots at districts. The Raiders will be the fourth seed into the SPSL Tournament after losing a mini-playoff game to Mount Rainier Tuesday night. Jefferson, Mount Rainier and Kent-Meridian all tied at 10-6 during the regular season, but TJ earned the automatic district berth after sweeping first-place Tahoma during the regular season.

The Raiders will take on the Bethel Braves at 2 p.m. at Puyallup High School on Saturday with the seventh and eighth seeds into the district tournament on the line. Bethel finished fourth in the SPSL South at 9-7.

Against Tahoma, the big-time comeback started after the Raiders fell behind 55-40 with just 6:15 remaining in the fourth quarter Friday night.

"I thought we were done," Templeton said. "I didn't share that with the kids though. I put on a brave face and told them to keep plugging away and that shots will start to fall. I'm not really sure I believed that. But I must have sold it pretty good, because the kids didn't give up."

Jefferson rallied to score 22 points during those last six minutes and were helped by some poor shooting from the free-throw line from the Bears. Tahoma finished just 1-for-6 from the line in the last minute of regulation.

"We needed to extend the game and started to foul," Templeton said. "Luckily for us, Tahoma missed some crucial free throws down the stretch."

Senior Josh Duckworth hit a 3-pointer with 42 seconds to cut the Tahoma lead to one point

"We ran one of our normal sets to get Josh a look from three.," Templeton said. "He was having a bad shooting night most of the game and I asked him if he would make it. He told me he would."

Following the Duckworth three, TJ fouled Tahoma again and the Bear shooter made one of two to give the Bears a two-point lead with 27 seconds left in regulation.

The Raiders then ran a pin-down screen for senior Daryon James, who found junior Deonte Anderson for a layup that tied the game, sending it to overtime.

Jefferson dominated the four-minute overtime session, outscoring Tahoma, 19-8. The Raiders finished 11 for 13 from the free-throw line during overtime. In total, Jefferson scored 40 points during the last 10 minutes of the game.

James led four Raiders in double figures Friday with 20 points, six assists and four rebounds. Daniel Park ended up with 18 points, five assists and four rebounds, Duckworth finished with 15 points, Anderson chipped in 14 points and Tyshawn Webster-Piper grabbed 18 rebounds.

"We went through a slump recently, but I think we are ready to break out," Templeton said. "I think that some of the expectations and pressure got to us a little bit. But I think we have finally broken out. Our best basketball is ahead of us and we are excited for the opportunity to do something that hasn't been done at TJ in almost 30 years."

Decatur — The Gators start their postseason run with a winner-to-district, loser-out game at 11 a.m. at Auburn Mountainview High School Saturday against the Hazen Highlanders.

Decatur (11-9) finished in fourth place in the SPSL 3A Division, but come into the game on a three-game winning streak. Hazen (7-13) finished sixth in the Class 3A/2A Seamount League.

The Gators have qualified for either the state or regional tournament for six-straight seasons.

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