Don’t mistake Bishop Montgomery’s collective sigh of relief for happiness. Though the Knights are thrilled to have emerged victorious from its opening round overtime dogfight on March 11 against the Westchester Comets — who lost their best player to injury in the first quarter — Bishop Montgomery is frustrated that it needed an extra frame to seal the win.

Known for being a very disciplined team, the home Knights committed a number of uncharacteristic turnovers and, much to their chagrin, were thoroughly outrebounded by the scrappy Comets.

“We need to take better care of the ball,” asserts Montgomery head coach Doug Mitchell. “And we’ve done a good job of that all year. But tonight might have been our high turnover game of the whole year. [Westchester] had a lot to do with that because they’re quick and they’re tough.”

“We went into overtime knowing that we shouldn’t have even been in that situation,” adds Montgomery junior forward Ethan Thompson. “That it never should have been that close.”

Thankfully for the Knights, their nearly perfect play in the overtime period ensured that they would only regret the previous 32 minutes for a few nights instead of the whole summer, as they spoiled a valiant Westchester comeback effort and earned the chance to defend its home floor once again in the second round of the Open Division.

Down goes Fisher

In the early going, Westchester matched Montgomery blow for blow, and appeared to believe fully that it could topple the heavily favored Knights in front of the raucous home Montgomery crowd. Westchester’s chances of doing so, however, took a major blow late in the first quarter when San Jose State-bound senior center Keith Fisher fell to the ground chasing a rebound and remained there for an extended period of time, writhing in pain.

Westchester’s worst nightmare had come true: Fisher tore his ACL on the play. (By that point in the game, Fisher had already scored five points and was a major nuisance to the Knights’ offensive efforts.)

Despite the devastating loss of Fisher, Westchester didn’t implode, but impressively rallied together. After weathering a hot early start by Montgomery sophomore shooting guard David Singleton (10 points in the first quarter), the Comets generated clutch baskets of their own in the second quarter, highlighted by two timely three-pointers from senior forward Evan Council, to take a 35-32 lead into the locker room at halftime.

“Coach [Ed] Azzam [of Westchester], is so smart; he changed the way they played a little bit,” recalls Mitchell.

Second half roller coaster

Whatever adjustments Montgomery needed to make appeared to have been taken care of in the locker room at halftime, as the Knights dominated the third quarter with its balanced scoring attack. Singleton (game-high 27 points) continued to find the basket, and junior forward Ethan Thompson, who appeared out of sync in the first quarter, was a sparkplug for Montgomery on both ends of the floor.

“My mentality was just to keep shooting the ball,” recalls Thompson, who scored 20 of his 21 points after the first quarter. “If it’s an open opportunity, take it. Don’t hesitate. I know I’m capable of making shots; if it doesn’t go in the first time, it doesn’t mean it won’t go in the second time.”

Meanwhile, Westchester looked like a team that, despite its best efforts, was simply out of gas, and mustered only six points to Montgomery’s 17 in the third quarter. For the second time that night, Westchester’s fate appeared to be sealed. And for the second time that night, the Comet players refused to accept it.

Fueled by eight fourth quarter points from junior Marquis Moore (who scored a team-high 15 points on the night) and a revitalized team effort on the defensive end, the Comets came roaring back into the game and, amazingly, held the Knights to just one field goal in the fourth.

With less than 10 seconds left to play, Westchester senior point guard Terrell Waiters converted a layup while absorbing a foul on the play, tying the game at 58 apiece and giving the Comets a chance to take a one point lead at the free throw line.

“I was trying just to play basketball and not panic,” recalls Singleton with a smile about the nerve-racking sequence.

Unfortunately for Westchester, Waiters’ free throw clanked out and, after a failed Knights’ possession, the stage was set for this epic battle to be decided in extra minutes. “We’re very lucky he missed that free throw,” says Thompson of Waiters.

Outstanding overtime

While Montgomery struggled to stay in a rhythm for much of regulation, the Knights wasted no time putting pressure on the Comets in the extra frame. A Thompson three-pointer followed very quickly by a triple from Singleton fueled a 13-0 run that gave Montgomery control of the game for good. This time, Westchester and its miraculous comeback effort truly had run out of gas.

“The main focus of this game was ‘rebound, rebound, rebound’ — limit their second chance opportunities,” says Thompson. “We didn’t do that very well until the overtime period.”

“We made a couple quick shots, got out ahead, and we just seemed to relax a little bit,” adds Mitchell of the overtime. “And we got some stops. Once we jumped on them a little bit, we just kept the momentum going from there.”

Pending status

As of the writing of this article, Montgomery will have a chance to keep that momentum going in the second round of Open Division play, as it hosts Cathedral Catholic of San Diego at nearby El Camino College.

“They’re big; they’ve got a seven-foot kid (junior Brandon McCoy),” says Mitchell. “We’re going to have to do a much better job on the glass, or it’s going to be a long night.”

“If we stay calm and play defense like we can, we’ll be fine,” adds a confident Singleton.