As Thomas Ross conducted a postgame interview, Jahad Thomas walked by and patted his senior teammate on the back. The gesture was small, but spoke volumes.
Thomas is an all-state player and a 1,000-point scorer. The stats do not matter, however. Thomas just wants to win and make a state championship run and he realizes how important players like Ross and Tyler Gardner are in making that dream a reality. That was what was so encouraging about their performance Monday as Williamsport downed visiting Jersey Shore, 94-67.
Thomas was outstanding again, recording a triple-double, but Ross and Gardner combined for 24 points, 12 rebounds and five steals as Williamsport (18-2) won its ninth straight. Depth has been a concern for the Millionaires but it could become a strength if these performances continue.
"It felt really good coming out and knowing I could contribute. We're trying to get ready for playoffs so we can make a run," said Ross, who scored 10 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dealt four assists and made three steals. "If we can get points off the bench and rebounds and give our starters a break and get our energy levels up we should be good."
Ross and Gardner came alive in the second quarter as Williamsport opened some breathing room against determined Jersey Shore which led 13-6 early in the first quarter. The versatile duo combined for 12 points and made six of eight second-quarter shots as Williamsport built a 52-33 halftime lead. Both players can play either of the forward positions or at center and had 18 points by halftime.
Gardner scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds. Ross has been emerging late this season and Gardner might have had a coming out party. He scored six straight second-quarter points as Williamsport started breaking away and showed some good post moves while displaying a nice left-handed shot.
"They relish that opportunity because they know they're supposed to be sparks off the bench," Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. "We're really not looking for a whole lot of points. We're just looking for a lot of energy and for the defensive intensity to pick up and to try to ignite our transition game. When those guys can give us points in our half-court sets that's an added bonus."
It does not hurt having Thomas play one of his best games either. The dynamic senior forward was unstoppable at times, scoring 24 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, dealing 10 assists and making five steals. Thomas nearly had a triple-double by halftime and he was seeing things so well that most of his assists basically led to a layup drill.
Isaiah Washington hurt Jersey Shore as well, scoring 21 points and dealing seven assists, but it was Thomas who sparked Williamsport after Jersey Shore's torrid start. The Millionaires closed the first quarter on an 18-5 run and never trailed again as Thomas scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
"It's great him seeing you even when you don't think he does," Ross said. "He always knows where his teammates are and always gets them the ball. I view him as a 1-5. He can do it all."
"Jahad would have had 1,000 points a long time ago but there's a lot of times he's passed up scoring opportunities to try and create a play for his teammates and he did the same tonight. He did an excellent job of finding the open guy and getting his teammates involved and encouraging his teammates," Taylor said. "He's been that way since his freshman year. He just does everything a coach wants him to do in terms of being a complete basketball player and being unselfish."
Jersey Shore (9-12) showed why it could be a District 4 Class AAA title contender next year. The young Bulldogs start all underclassmen and have played a brutal non-conference schedule. Still, they showed no fear against the state's No. 7 Class AAAA team, hit five of their first six shots and still were within five points a few minutes into the second quarter.
The Bulldogs executed well against Williamsport's pressure defense and had three players score in double figures while gaining some huge experience entering next season.
"It was a tough game but we learned a lot. That is why they are on our schedule," Jersey Shore coach Butch Barnhart said. "A lot of our young kids got experience and that will go a long way next year. I can't say I'm happy losing but the effort was there. I think if we would have made our easy shots and not allowed them to transition so much it might have been closer."
Cody Confair scored all 14 of his points in the first half while Eric Huling added 13 points and four assists. Zach Miller helped ignite the early charge, feeding Huling for a 3-pointer off the opening tip while finishing with 13 points and five rebounds. Ryan Eck played well inside, scoring nine points and Clay Newton grabbed six rebounds.
Williamsport has two more home games and added the second last night. The Millionaires will face national power Princeton Day Academy from Maryland next Tuesday. Princeton Day is led by Seton Hall-bound point guard Aquille Carr, the ESPN 2011 Player of the Year.
JERSEY SHORE (67)
Eric Huling 4 3-4 13, Tyler Foulkrod 2 2-3 6, Zach Miller 4 2-3 5 2-3 13, Cody Confair 6 1-1 14, Stephen Baier 0 0-0 0, Jeff Dincher 2 1-1 5, Frankie Stetts 1 0-0 2, Clay Newton 0 0-0 0, Jordan Bartges 2 0-0 5, Ryan Eck 4 1-2 9, Nate Bischof 0 0-0 0. Totals 26 10-14 67.
Jahad Thomas 10 4-8 24, Isaiah Washington 8 4-5 21, Chris Kinley 1 0-2 2, Achilles Watson 3 1-2 7, Herb Stelly 2 2-2 6, Thomas Ross 5 0-0 10, Brandon Fedoriw 2 0-0 5, Brice Harris 1 1-2 4, Tyler Gardner 6 2-6 14, Nyric Gosley 0 0-0 0, Greg Johnson 0 0-0 0, Greg Ousley 0 1-2 1. Totals 38 15-20 94.
Jersey Shore19 14 18 16-67
Williamsport24 28 19 23-94
3-pointers: Jersey Shore 5 (Huling 2, Miller, Confair, Bartges); Williamsport 3 (Washington, Fedoriw, Harris).
Records: Williamsport 18-2. Jersey Shore 9-12.