With 1 minute and 30 seconds left against Tuscarora High School on Wednesday, Urbana guard Thomas Utt left the court and a took a seat on the bench three spots away from Darren Ambush, who handed Utt a water bottle and said a one-liner, causing both to break into laughter.
“We were just surprised,” Ambush said. “It caught me off guard that we were up by 20 in the third quarter and we just kept putting it on them. I thought it was going to be a grind-it-out game. I thought it was going to be a last-second game.”
Said Utt, “I definitely wasn't expecting to be sitting on the bench at the end of the game.”
But there they were, holding an insurmountable lead which ended in a 65-33 win against the No. 1-ranked team in Frederick County.
Urbana coach John Cooper was quick to point out it wasn't the same Tuscarora team he still expects to compete for a region title at the end of the season. The Titans were without 6-foot-6 senior forward Lamell Washington, who is out with a wrist injury.
“When they're missing Lamell, they're taking a toll,” Cooper said. “He makes them go and they're a different team without him. You can see it.”
Tuscarora coach Patrick Cook was unavailable for comment after the game.
Without Washington, Tuscarora had trouble defending in the paint and the Hawks took advantage with 34 of their points coming inside the lane. The Hawks made just four 3-pointers.
While their offense never stalled, Ambush was most impressed with their defensive performance.
“Everyone on defense played hard. That was pretty much one of our best defensive games,” he said. “Brendan [Wharton] shut down Carney [Bernard]. Thomas guarded [Kwa McDonald] at the end. Everyone played well. It was definitely a team win.”
McDonald scored seven points to lead the Titans and Bernard added five.
Ambush, who is still getting his basketball legs under him after helping the Hawks' football team to the 3A state semifinals, piloted the Hawks' quick-moving attack. On his way to 16 points, including a 4-for-5 night at the free throw line, he set up his teammates on the offensive ending, his favorite target being Utt, who finished with a game-high 19 points. Ambush kept the pressure up defensively. At the end of the first half, he turned a steal near midcourt into a breakaway layup.
“He gave us everything,” Cooper said. “Toughness -- defensively, offensively. He's so fast. He beats pressure and he attacks. He makes us go.”
The first win of the new year comes after dominating the Winters Mill Holiday Classic. The Hawks beat Hammond, 64-36, and South River, 68-42, during the two-day tournament and the players felt it gave them plenty of confidence. But they know this game wouldn't have been the same if Washington were in the lineup.
“It builds a lot of confidence but we understand that Lamell's not playing,” Utt said. “We know Lamell's their best player and with him in there it would never be a 30-point game. It would be a lot closer with him.”
Said Ambush, “We just have to get them next time.”
Urbana 65, Tuscarora 33
Tuscarora 7 6 12 8 - 33
Urbana 14 14 16 21 - 65
Tuscarora (6-2, 3-1): Kwaveon McDonald 7, Mykel Barber 6, Matt Kidd 6, Carney Bernard 5, Chris Abernathy 3, Anthony Naylor 2, Joseph Findley 2, Bryan Ingram 2
Urbana (8-1, 3-1): Thomas Utt 19, Darren Ambush 16, Tiffany Devin 9, Ian Eversull 6, Conner Wrightson 5, Brendan Wharton 5, Kyle Singer 3, Cole Burdette 2