With 6.5 seconds left, Mountain Pointe center Jalen Graham stepped to the line with the chance to close the lid on Brophy’s comeback attempt and seal the semifinal victory for the Pride. The career 40-percecnt free throw shooter, needed to hit just one free throw to extend Mountain Pointe’s lead to four and secure a berth to the AIA 6A State Championship.
And the 6-foot-9 junior, who played stellar defense throughout the game and rocked the rim with an earth-shattering dunk in the second half, stepped up to the occasion, hitting one of the two freebies. But, in the process of shooting his first free throw, a shrill exclamation comes from the Brophy student section, and Graham doubled-pumped, looked over his shoulder at the student section, re-gathered and shot. Incredibly, the free throw banked in, sending Mountain Pointe on to the championship. After the game, Graham recalled the strange turn of events that led to his game-sealing free throw.
“It was really crazy,” said an exuberant Graham. “I thought it was the ref, so I turned my head, and then I just shot it and it went in. I was just happy and super excited.”
Graham’s free throw sealed what was an incredibly impressive performance from the entire Mountain Pointe team. Throughout the game, they were able to keep Brophy at bay just long enough to hold on to their lead and the eventual victory. Guards Khalid Price and Amarion Cash came up big for the Pride when it mattered most, repeatedly getting in to the teeth of the Bronco defense and finishing in the lane. Price, a 5’9 junior, controlled the Mountain Pointe offense and was consistently able to convert once he got near the hoop, scoring 13 points in one of the biggest games of his career. Cash, a 6’4 senior, came up big when it mattered most, hitting a contested three with 57.4 seconds left to put Mountain Pointe up 61-56.
“I had to knock that down,” said an exhausted Cash. “It wasn’t any pressure knocking down that shot because I’ve taken that shot before and it was nothing to me.”
The win was just another signature victory in a stellar season for the Pride, but they also got revenge for an early season, one-point loss, to the Broncos back on November 28th. After that loss, the Pride snapped off a 16-game win streak and short of an end of the regular season loss to No. 10-seeded Gilbert, played some of their best basketball of the year. Balanced by the size of Deandre Henry and Graham, with the speed and quickness of numerous guards up and down the roster, the Pride earned their berth to the state championship.
The Pride now switch their attention to Nico Mannion and the high flying Pinnacle Pioneers, who needed overtime to defeat the Desert Vista Thunder 77-67. While there is something to be said for celebrating a victory of this nature, Mountain Pointe coach Duane Eason is already on to his next opponent.
“We can’t play the same way we played tonight,” said Eason. “But, we’ll watch film and make the proper adjustments. The hardest thing about playing a team like Pinnacle is they have good guards, but they’re not seniors. They’re poised, but they sometimes make some mistakes. Our hope is just to take advantage of those mistakes defensively.”
The two teams will face off on Wednesday, November 28th at 7 p.m. at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena to decide who will hoist the golden ball trophy.