BETHESDA – Senior guard Michael Mahdavi stepped up to the line in the final seconds of the game for Walter Johnson, three points separating Churchill from coming back and tying the game at 52.
He made both shots; then the Wildcats had a comfortable five-point lead as the clock wound down.
Mahdavi was fouled once more, and he stepped to the line again, made both free throws and the seven-point lead all but assured victory for Walter Johnson.
With that last free throw on Friday night, Mahdavi led Walter Johnson to break a curse in games against Churchill that has haunted them with losses for years, according to head coach Brian Fairall.
”We haven’t beat Churchill in so many years,” said Fairall. “It’s been five, six, six or seven years, we play them twice a year, so that’s at least 10, 12, 14 wins they’ve had against us.”
The teams were nearly opposites in terms of records, as Walter Johnson came into the game with a 4-11 record, compared to Churchill’s 10-5.
The disparity in wins and losses did not translate to on-court supremacy, with the lead being traded throughout the game and the point differential kept to seven points and below.
Three pointers came in decisive moments for the Wildcats, edging out some breathing room from a Churchill offense that had size.
“They hit their shots, they hit a bunch of threes in the second half, we didn’t hit very many threes the whole game,” said sophomore forward Reed Moshyedi.
In the fourth quarter, junior guard Cole Kinsella drained a three pointer, followed by Mahdavi, to break a 43-point tie.
Ironically, Fairall placed less emphasis on three pointers.
“To be honest, we shoot tons and tons of threes, and all season we’ve been thinking about trying to shoot less threes, so today there was an emphasis on not settling for threes,” said Fairall.
Churchill’s defense was mostly consistent through the game but peaked in the second quarter, where they kept Walter Johnson at bay well enough to outscore them by nine points and go into halftime with the lead.
“We definitely played hard, and we played defense, but we weren’t able to execute, give a lot of credit to WJ, they played well,” said Churchill head coach Robert Bean.