ST. CHARLES • Amechi Ramsey toed the free-throw line with the game hanging in the balance and cold as a stone.
A senior point guard for the Whitfield boys basketball team, Ramsey buried two free throws for his only points of the night to give his team a three-point lead with 59.4 seconds to play as Whitfield held on for a 48-41 victory at Duchesne on Wednesday in a matchup of Class 3 contenders.
“It's not hard, my teammates have faith in me,” Ramsey said. “It was a big relief. We had to finish the game. We had to finish it out with defense.”
The No. 6 small school in the STLhighschoolsports.com rankings, Whitfield (13-4) won its sixth consecutive game with one of its lowest scoring outputs of the season.
Most nights the Warriors are playing fast and furious, pushing the tempo in transition off defensive rebounds or even made buckets.
Duchesne pumped the breaks on Whitfield's fast-paced attack.
The No. 9 small school, Duchesne (12-5) put as many bodies as it could between the ball and the basket in a hurry. That was the plan all along.
“Our defense wasn't the issue. We want to keep everyone out of transition,” Duchesne coach Wade Bouslog said. “Early in the year I thought we did a terrible job in transition D and emphasized it. We've been really successful when we can play half-court five-on-five.”
The Pioneers got their wish, but the Warriors were ready. Both teams put a premium on protecting the paint and cutting off driving lanes. It opened up more opportunities on the perimeter. Opportunities Duchesne didn't convert.
“We've had success playing through the post. We're kind of old school that way,” Bouslog said. “We didn't hit shots, I think we were 3 of 18 from three and that's the bottom line. It's a game of making shots, and we didn't make shots.”
Duchesne led 8-7 after the first quarter. Whitfield standout guard Torrence Watson got into an offensive groove and was sharing the ball, too. A Missouri recruit, Watson scored 23 points, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out four assists.
“I think it was really difficult for us. We didn't get as many shots as we wanted, but we stopped them on defense as well,” Watson said. “Even though it was a low-scoring game we made sure they didn't score and that led to us to winning the game late.”
One of Watson's helpers went to sophomore guard Max Holton on a baseline skip pass that took a bad hop. Holton corralled the ball in the left corner, rose up and buried a 3-pointer. He finished with eight points.
“When there is limited possessions and the score is close, every little thing is a big play,” Whitfield coach Mike Potsou said. “Max Holton fielding a grounder on that bad skip pass.”
The biggest little play came when junior guard Ahmad McCray drew an offensive foul on senior center Luke Loewestein with 1 minute and 10 seconds to play. Whitfield led 41-40 at the time. The Pioneers had a shot at the one-and-one free throws but missed only to have senior forward Adam Moore wrestle the ball out of Whitfield junior forward Luther Taylor's hands to extend the possession. Taylor scored eight points and had a game-high nine rebounds.
The Pioneers came out of a timeout and were going to run a lob play but never got the chance as McCray stepped into the paint, hit the deck and drew the foul.
“Ahmad McCray who doesn't necessarily fill up the stat sheet but makes so many hustle plays and he's always in the right position at the right time and that leads to other teams having to do things they're not accustomed to,” Potsou said.
Whitfield junior guard Aurelio Stucco had a tough night shooting, but both of his 3-point field goals came on consecutive offensive possessions. The first put Whitfield ahead 34-32 with 6:03 to play. The second gave the Warriors a 37-32 lead with 5:07 to play.
It was those types of plays that the Warriors got and the Pioneers didn't in the fourth quarter that made the difference.
“We're right there. You make a couple plays you have a chance to beat that team,” Bouslog said. “We're not going to play any better than a Whitfield or a St. Mary's.”
Moore led the Pioneers with 12 points and grabbed five rebounds. Senior guard Mitchell Fairless scored 11 points. Loewenstein scored four points and grabbed eight rebounds.
The Pioneers have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, but Bouslog brushed that off. Duchesne's schedule has pitted it against some of the best teams in the state. Wednesday was just another learning experience.
“Our kids do a really good job of digesting what we give them and improving. Every time we've got on them or shown them stuff they've gotten better from it,” Bouslog said. “Everything you want to do is still out there. It's going to make us better eventually.”