As Wyoming Valley West took a seven-point lead into halftime, most Williamsport fans sat in stunned silence Saturday night.
The Millionaire locker room was not much louder.
Instead of ranting and raving, coach Allen Taylor calmly instructed. There was no big tactical adjustment needed. It was really just a matter of changing the attitude and the quiet message was received in a big way.
Williamsport made plenty of second-half noise, scoring 49 points and pulling away for a 66-53 win. The Millionaires improved to 7-0 for the first time in 11 years and showed the kind of mettle that defines champions.
"He just let us know we weren't playing the Millionaire way," said Williamsport guard Isaiah Washington, who had a game-high 18 points, seven steals and four assists. "He didn't really snap or anything. He was calm and just told us we had to step it up."
"I feel as though we should be like that in the beginning of the game, too," said forward Jahad Thomas after scoring 16 points and dealing seven assists. "Coach T told us we didn't have the right attitude so me and Isaiah told the team, 'we're not losing and we have to have the right attitude and go out here and not lose this game.' We went out hard and did what we had to do."
After scoring just 17 first-half points and trailing by 11 in the second quarter, Williamsport needed only three minutes to regain the lead for good. Herb Stelly's behind-the-back pass to Thomas for a layup gave the Millionaires the lead and was part of a 25-9 third-quarter run. Midway through the third, Williamsport already had matched its first-half point total.
Williamsport started shredding Valley West's defense while its own defense played with a lot more energy, forced 13 second-half turnovers and sparked the transition game. All the players came alive, too, with Chris Kinley (12) and Achilles Watson (12) also scoring in double figures. Watson added seven rebounds and played strong defense while Stelly had five assists.
The Millionaires learned from their mistakes, but if they hope to make a deep postseason run the key is not repeating them as the season continues.
"You definitely take some positives but there's also some concerns because I don't want us to think that we can just turn that switch on and off when we want to," Taylor said. "You have to make sure you have that switch turned on and keep it on at all times otherwise you allow teams to get confidence."
Washington and Thomas took over in the second half and hurt Valley West with their scoring, passing and defense. They helped push the lead to 11 early in the fourth quarter before Valley West pulled within 46-41 with 5:47 remaining. It was all Williamsport from there, however, as Kinley converted a 3-point play off a putback to spark a game-breaking 11-2 run.
The Millionaires have owned the fourth quarter this season, averaging a 22-12 margin. They actually improved offensively last night, scoring 24 fourth-quarter points while hitting 11 of 15 shots. Williamsport moved the ball well and set each other up for easy shots, mostly layups or chippies inside of six feet.
"It definitely says something about the team," Washington said. "You play 16 minutes of basketball and are averaging 70 points and only have 17 in one half. You have to realize you're not playing the way you're supposed to and we just came out and played like we're supposed to in the second half."
"It is a good wake-up call," Thomas said. "Even off the court we have to prepare ourselves mentally."
Valley West held Williamsport to seven first-quarter points and opened a 20-9 lead midway through the second quarter. The Millionaires missed five layups in the first half and looked tentative. That all changed in the second half and the Millionaires now take some momentum into a big three-day tournament in Elmira starting Thursday. Williamsport opens against Lely from Naples, Fla.
VALLEY WEST (53)
Jaquan Ingram 4 0-0 8, Brett Good 3 0-0 6, Evan McCue 5 1-1 12, Lucky Williams 2 6-8 10, Chris McCue 2 0-0 4, Larry Anderscavage 3 0-0 8, Jamie Calloway 1 0-0 3, Husam Abdurrazza 1 0-0 2. Totals 21 7-9 53.
Jahad Thomas 8 0-0 16, Isaiah Washington 7 3-3 18, Chris Kinley 5 2-3 12, Herb Stelly 0 1-2 1, Achilles Watson 5 2-2 12, Thomas Ross 3 1-1 7, Brandon Fedoriw 0 0-0 0, Tyler Gardner 0 0-0 0, Nadir Boone 0 0-0 0, Brice Harris 0 0-0 0, Greg Ousley 0 0-0 0. Totals 28 8-11 66.
Valley West8 16 9 20-53
Williamsport7 10 25 24-66
3-pointers: Valley West 4 (Anderscavage 2, Calloway); Williamsport 1 (Washington).
Records: Williamsport 7-0. Valley West 1-5.
JV Score: Williamsport 66-43.