Four Mount Baker players touched the ball in the final six seconds to create an impromptu winning buzzer-beater as the Mountaineers made school history.
Thomas Barbo swooped in for the winning layup an instant before the buzzer sounded Tuesday, giving Mount Baker a 53-51 Northwest Conference win over Lynden before an enthralled crowd in a wild matchup of state tournament hopefuls.
“I’ve never done anything like that before,” said Barbo, a junior three-sport standout noted for his speed. “The plan was to do a pick-and-roll around (6-foot-6) TJ Bass. Grant Balvanz was the second option (on a pass from fourth-year point guard Keenan Gray). Then (after Balvanz missed a pro-length 3-pointer), Jed Schleimer tipped the rebound to me because I had a better chance to score.”
“Just like I drew that play up,” Baker coach Rob Gray quipped with a wink, a grin and a chuckle, all in a lot fewer than six seconds.
The Mounties (15-4, 8-4) were coming off a 65-56 win over Lynden Christian, so they and their fans celebrated wins over both Lynden teams in the same season for the first time under Gray, in his 20th season.
“You’d probably have to go back at least to the 1970s for the last time we’ve done that against the Lynden teams,” Gray said. “The last time we beat Lynden was 2011, and we had not beaten LC since 2010.”
Bass cousins star
TJ Bass didn’t touch the ball in the final six seconds, but he touched it countless times before that. Bass, who said he plans to sign a Division I football letter of intent with Idaho on Wednesday, finished with 11 rebounds and 11 points, including two huge baskets in the last three minutes.
Sixth man Kaleb Bass, a sophomore who is Gray’s backup and TJ’s cousin, enjoyed the best quarter of his career when he scored eight unanswered points to open the fourth quarter.
After two 3-pointers by Balvanz tied it, Kaleb Bass’ two free throws gave Baker a 36-34 lead. Kaleb Bass then scored off a rebound, followed by two aggressive drives for a 42-36 advantage.
But Lynden (13-5, 9-2) rallied with five points from Andrew Kivlighn, four by Christian Zamora and two apiece by James Marsh and Clayton Whitman.
Mount Baker took a 51-48 lead when Balvanz hit a 3-pointer and TJ Bass made a runner. Zamora then scored on a layup off a steal and Kivlighn hit 1 of 2 free throws to pull Lynden into a 51-51 tie with six seconds left.
Kivlighn, a senior who starts alongside four sophomores, and Zamora each had a game-high 16 points and Marsh scored nine.
But Mount Baker’s balance prevailed as the Mountaineers’ shooting improved from 9 for 27 in the first half to 13 for 22 in the final two quarters. Balvanz and TJ Bass scored 11 apiece, Kaleb Bass and Schleimer had 10 each, Barbo scored eight and Gray had a solid floor game and a great senior memory.
A long wait
“The last time we won with a buzzer-beater was four years ago (2013 season) at Friday Harbor on the island,” Gray said. “This is the quickest any of my teams has reached 15 wins (his record is 19 victories). It might be the fastest any Baker team has reached 15 wins, since the 1958 state champion won at least six in the postseason.”
Keenan Gray thanked the school’s community for its support.
“The community did not expect wins over both Lynden teams, but they came out to support us,” said Gray, who scored 15 points against Lynden Christian to go with 19 by TJ Bass and 16 from Balvanz.
Class 1A Mount Baker finishes the regular season at home against Sehome on Thursday, Feb. 2. Class 2A Lynden plays at Bellingham on Friday, Feb. 3, and winds up the league season at home against Ferndale Feb. 7.