Jahad Thomas stood alone near midcourt, dribbling time away. Thousands of eyes were focused on just him as the senior helped Williamsport preserve a hard-fought win over rival Loyalsock.
There literally was not an empty seat as Saturday night's game as Williamsport and Loyalsock drew the biggest crowd at the Millionaires' gym since the Chevy Troutman days. And it seemed fitting that as time ticked away the stage belonged to Thomas. This was his night, this was his game.
Thomas put on a dazzling second-half performance, scoring 18 of his 19 points, grabbing 10 of his 12 rebounds and adding three assists while willing Williamsport to an exciting, 66-54 win. Thomas had a hand in 23 of Williamsport's first 34 second-half points, made 7 of 10 shots from the field and dominated in all facets while helping the Millionaires (11-2) hold off a determined Loyalsock team for their second straight win in this annual grudge match.
Jahad Thomas of Williamsport lays up over Kyle Datres (3) and Roger Wilson (21) Saturday at Williamsport High School.
"When he (Thomas) decides to take over it's like a breath of fresh air," Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. "You really don't have to run anything. You just give him the ball and get out of the way."
"He took the bull by the horns when he had to. He took charge and he exhibited senior leadership out there," Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. "He's just a whale of a ball player. We did everything we could to stop him but he's so powerful and so quick that there were times it looked like we were standing flat-footed. We weren't, but he's just so explosive."
Ironically, Thomas was nearly non-existent in the second half. The 2012 all-state selection scored just one point and grabbed two rebounds while missing all three of his shots from the field. And when Loyalsock (8-2) turned a 12-point second-quarter deficit into a 24-24 tie at halftime, it looked like the thousands who packed the gym by the time the JV game's first quarter was over might be witnessing a huge upset brewing.
Instead, Thomas took over. The strong and explosive power forward scored off a putback, then made a steal at midcourt and slammed home a two-handed power dunk. That ignited a 19-4 run in which Thomas scored nine points and added two assists as Williamsport took a 43-28 lead and sent its fans into near delirium.
"My mind was somewhere else in the first half but I was thinking in the locker room, 'this is my senior year and I'm not going to lose to my rival,'" Thomas said. "I just had to go out and do what I do best and that's crash boards and do whatever I have to do to win the game."
Thomas was far from a one-man show as Isaiah Washington scored 19 points and Chris Kinley had a double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. But Loyalsock would not die and kept coming back. Every time it did Thomas answered.
The gritty Lancers pulled within 48-44 early in the fourth quarter, but Thomas grabbed a rebound off a missed foul shot, went the length of the court and hit a short jumper that he converted into a 3-point play. A possession later, it was like watching a replay as Thomas again rebounded a missed foul shot, went the length of the floor, used a nice up and under move and converted another 3-point play that made it 54-44. Loyalsock never pulled closer than eight again.
"When I got the steal defensively coming in the second half I knew it was going to turn things around," Thomas said. "Just from me going hard on the defensive end now my whole team wants to go hard and that's what the key was."
Isaiah Washington complemented Thomas and played a courageous game. The Penn State recruit scored 19 points despite having the flu and not being able to go through the morning shootaround. Washington scored eight straight first-quarter points off two 3-pointers and a steal and drive, sparking the Millionaires to a 12-point lead.
Just like Thomas, when Loyalsock rallied in the second half, Washington was there to help stifle the momentum. He scored 11 second-half points and added four rebounds and two steals while playing the entire second half despite being in obvious discomfort.
"If he can be sick and give that kind of effort we might want him to be sick more often," Taylor joked. "I was a little concerned because he wasn't able to come through walk-throughs this morning and we thought it would be better just to have him rest up and he gave us a pretty good effort."
So did Loyalsock.
The Lancers never buckled despite facing the best team it likely will see all season in front of an overflowing and boisterous crowd. Loyalsock actually took a second-quarter lead and maintained its poised when Williamsport opened that 13-point third-quarter lead.
Sophomore guard Mike Pastore was brilliant, scoring 16 points, including seven in the second quarter when Loyalsock made its first move. He showed no fear, hit long-range shots, drove the basket and sank a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter that made it 45-40.
"I felt great. There's nothing better than feeling like that in an environment like this," Pastore said. "It's nervewracking at first but once you get into it I felt great just like everyone else did."
Kyle Datres scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half and also was instrument to the comeback as was Omar Little who had eight rebounds and three assists. Roger Wilson played hard inside and grabbed 12 rebounds, topping 10 for a 10th straight game. More encouraging for Insinger was the way his guards handled Williamsport's intense pressure.
Loyalsock lost some turnovers at key times but protected the ball for the most part, ran the floor well and used Williamsport's pressure against it at times. As Loyalsock gets ready to prepare to defend its District 4 Class AA title that was the kind of performance that could be a huge springboard.
"We developed some resiliency tonight," Insinger said. "The thing is if we continue to improve like this I will be very happy with the team at the end of the year."
As good as Loyalsock was, this night was Williamsport's and Thomas's.
"My junior year was exciting winning this game," Thomas said. "But this being my senior year I wasn't losing to our top rivalry team."
Roger Wilson 4 0-0 8, Ryan Bogoczik 0 3-4 3, Kyle Datres 5 2-4 13, Omar Little 3 2-5 8, Ben Sosa 2 0-0 4, Mike Pastore 5 4-6 16, Jimmy Webb 1 0-0 2, Luke Glavin 0 0-0 0, Tommy Baggott 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 11-19 54
Greg Ousley 1 0-0 2, Jahad Thomas 7 5-8 19, Herb Stelly 1 1-2 3, Thomas Ross 1 0-1 2, Isaiah Washington 6 4-5 19, Achilles Watson 1 1-2 3, Brandon Fedoriw 1 0-0 2, Chris Kinnley 7 2-6 16. Totals 25 13-24 66
Loyalsock 06 18 13 17 - 54
Williamsport 18 06 21 21 - 66
3 point goals: Loyalsock 3 (Pastori 2, Datrus); Williamsport 3 (Washington)
JV: Williamsport 48, Loyalsock 36
Top Scorer: Nadir Bloon, W, 22
Record: Williamsport 11-2; Loyalsock 8-2
Next Game: Williamsport at Hollidaysburg on Tuesday