Michael Bullock (@thebullp_n)
DOWNINGTOWN — Jhamir Brickus may be a freshman at Coatesville High School, but when the 5-11 youngster learned the ball would be in his hands in the final seconds of yet another close basketball game he never flinched. Not once.
So when Brickus took off for the bucket with maybe 10 seconds remaining Tuesday night and saw a pair of Bayard Rustin players converge defensively, all he did was hang in the air a tad longer, switch the ball to his left hand and put it up on the rim.
While the ball bounced across the iron several times, eventually it fell.
Yet even though Rustin and Coatesville exchanged a trio of errant inbounds passes in the 2.4 seconds that were left after Brickus’ daring drive to the bucket, his late finish proved to be the difference in the Red Raiders’ heart-stopping 51-49 triumph.
Brickus finished with 17 points as Chuck Moore’s club (19-4) bounced out of Downingtown West High School with a positive result that propelled the Red Raiders into Thursday night’s Ches-Mont League postseason championship.
“I was just all focused on putting the ball in the basket,” said Brickus, who added three boards and three assists. “Just wanted to win the game for my team.”
Up next for Coatesville, which stretched its winning streak to seven games, will be a showdown with Bishop Shanahan back at Downingtown West. Shanahan eased past Great Valley 52-29 in the front end of Tuesday night’s double dip.
Jake Nelson tossed in 19 points for Rustin (15-8), which trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half before making things really, really interesting. Keith Cochran’s Golden Knights also picked up 10 points apiece from Taj Asparagus and Tim Durant.
Despite Tuesday night’s narrow setback — Brandon Frazier dropped six dimes for the Knights — Cochran’s gritty fifth-seeded club will open District 1 Class 5A tournament play on Feb. 22 at home against No. 12 Glen Mills.
Coatesville, meanwhile, has some other business to attend to before beginning its quest for a District 1 Class 6A championship early next week.
And the nervy Brickus had plenty to do with the Red Raiders moving forward.
Tied at 49-all after Nelson canned a short turnaround jumper — Frazier’s entry pass from the left wing set up the hoop — the 6-6 sophomore was unable to complete the conventional three-point play. Durant, however, came down with the ball.
Although Coatesville was able to tie up Durant, the arrow was pointing in the Red Raiders’ favor and Moore’s club took over on the alternate possession.
Calling time before play finally resumed, Moore opted to hold for the final shot and Brickus was the guy he wanted to give it a go with the outcome riding.
After running off some 50 seconds, Brickus took off from the right wing, barged into the painted area and lifted off. When Nelson and Frazier collapsed, Brickus simply pumped again and hung just a little longer in the air. Somehow, he got the ball off.
And it went in.
“I just kind of maneuvered in and just got it up there,” Brickus said.
“The kid’s special, man,” Moore added. “With a playmaker like that, all you gotta do is put the ball in his hands. Maybe a little brush screen here and there, but he’s able to create for himself. He finished with his left hand. He finished with his left hand.
“I’ve seen him do it multiple times at practice, but to have the confidence to do it in a game is spectacular,” Moore continued. “He’s a phenomenal player. He shines in the biggest moments and I’m extremely proud of him. Big time.”
Once those final 2.4 seconds finally ran off — Brickus dribbled out the time after that series of unsuccessful inbounds passes — the Red Raiders were moving on.
Rustin had fought back from the 24-9 deficit that stood with 6:28 left in the first half — Brickus had just canned the first of his two treys — assumed the lead three times in the final 6:41 yet could not find a way into the championship game.
Moore had plenty of good things to say about the rest of his backcourt — Kamau Brickus scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds, while Dapree Bryant wound up with six points and three assists — but he also commended 6-9 Tyrel Bladen.
Bladen netted nine points and blocked three shots.
“It was a total team effort,” said Moore, who also offered props to Joe Boulware (4 points) and Avery Young (6 points). “It was a total team effort.”
Rustin’s 13-0 salvo, a burst that brought Cochran’s Knights within two late in the opening half, coincided with Bladen’s time on the bench with two fouls.
Rustin also had solved Coatesville’s sticky pressure, a defensive tactic that led to eight turnovers just in the opening quarter. Once the Knights started throwing the ball over the top or using the pass and not the dribble to advance, they settled down.
They also got back in it — and stayed right there.
“We’re gonna fight, that’s what Rustin basketball is about,” Cochran admitted. “It’s what this team is built on. We played hard and we fought; we just didn’t win.”
“I knew they would,” Moore commended. “Nothing’s easy from here on out, man. Everything you play for is gonna be a playoff atmosphere regardless. So, it’s great to have your first playoff game be that type of game, so now you’re prepared for it moving forward. And I think it could have gone either way.
“Keith Cochran does a great job. He’s one of the coaches you somewhat fear in District 1 because he always gets his guys prepared, they play as hard as they possibly can and tonight that showed. So hat’s off to them.”
It was the second time this season Coatesville bested the Knights. The Red Raiders’ other conquest of their Chester County comrades came in mid-December.
There won’t be a third meeting this season.
“I don’t want to see them again,” Moore said with some laughter mixed in. “They’re 5A. Go down there with the Chesters of the world and compete with them.
“Rustin’s a great team and hats off to them. I know they wanted to pull it out, but I think they’ll be a problem in that district tournament.”
Now it’s up to the Red Raiders to see if they can add another championship to go with the National Division title they already have tucked away.
To do that, however, they’ll have to go through a Shanahan squad they halved the season series with — as each prevailed at home.
Of course, they had to duke it out with Rustin first.
“It was just a great team win,” Jhamir Brickus said.
“It’s just Step Two. We’ve gotta bring it on tomorrow at practice.”