Diamond’s late free throws lift Hawks to victory

FRONT ROYAL — As Skyline junior TrayQuan Diamond stepped to the free-throw line with a chance to give the Hawks a late lead on Friday night against visiting James Wood, he had only one thought on his mind.

“Just think about it going through the net,” Diamond said. “The more you think about it, the more you’ll succeed at it.”

Everything happened just like Diamond envisioned.

The guard coolly dropped both free throw shots through the net to give Skyline a one-point lead with 14 seconds remaining, then helped the Hawks ward off a last-second layup by James Wood to secure a 43-41 Northwestern District victory.

“My team just needed me in there and I decided to step up and be the man of the team. That’s pretty much it,” Diamond said.

Diamond’s free throws capped a thrilling comeback for Skyline (6-6, 2-2 Northwestern), which rallied from a 23-15 halftime deficit to reach .500 for the first time this season. But James Wood nearly forced overtime with a comeback of its own in the fourth period.

The Hawks staked a 38-34 lead following two made free throws by freshman Colin Smith with 2:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Colonels freshman Chandler Brooks delivered a 3-pointer from the wing to pull James Wood within one a minute later.

Smith pushed Skyline’s lead back to three points when he hit a runner in the lane with 1:25 left, but Brooks again delivered a 3-pointer, this one from the top of the arc to tie the game at 40 with 1:13 showing on the clock.

While attempting to drain some time off the clock on its ensuing possession, Diamond turned the ball over on a five-second defense call and was then called for a foul as Brooks slipped and fell to the floor while handling the ball.

Brooks, who led all scorers with 19 points, hit the first free throw of a one-and-one opportunity to give James Wood a 41-40 lead with 29.9 seconds remaining.

Diamond drew a foul while driving to the basket on Skyline’s next possession and reclaimed the lead for the Hawks. Brooks had a chance to tie the game or give the Colonels the lead a few seconds later when he was fouled on his own drive to the bucket, but he came up empty on both attempts.

A free throw by Brandon Walters gave the Hawks a 43-41 lead with five seconds left and James Wood nearly tied the game when it pushed the ball the length of the court, but Randolph Jackson’s layup along the baseline missed. A tip attempt by Colin Watts at the buzzer also misfired, sealing Skyline’s win.

“We had a couple of good looks at the end. … We had probably three opportunities to either tie the game or win the game and they just didn’t go in,” Colonels head coach Tim Wygant said. “Every once in a while you do, for the most part, everything right to put yourself in the situation to win and sometimes the ball doesn’t go in. Unfortunately we had that happen the last two games.”

Skyline head coach Jacob Bates credited the Hawks’ defensive effort as the difference maker on Friday night. The Hawks held James Wood to only 18 points in the second half and a 32.6-percent (15 for 46) mark from the field.

“You look at defensively what we were able to do tonight, I thought we really dug in,” Bates said. “I think they scored 18 points in the second half and a lot of those were the two 3-pointers and some free throws there up to that point. The difference in the game was our defensive rebounding and what we were able to do defensively.”

Foul trouble was an issue for Skyline in the first half, as forwards Antwan Swain and Walters each missed significant time in the first two periods after committing some early fouls.

With Swain and Walters both on the bench, James Wood erupted for 17 points in the second period behind a 10-point frame from Brooks.

“What Jamal Parker, Evan Lester and Brandon Wells did in the first half stepping in defensively and holding James Wood to only 23 points without our guys that are usually in the game scoring for us is what allowed us to come back and run the course in the second half,” Bates said. “If they didn’t come in and do what they did defensively, that game may be out of control by halftime.”

The two forwards returned in the second half and gave the Hawks and instant spark, as the duo combined to score Skyline’s first eight points of the third period.

Smith then unleashed some timely shooting from the perimeter, as he connected on two straight 3-pointers, the second of which gave Skyline a 29-28 lead with 2:20 left in the third quarter.

“We picked it up a lot in the second half,” said Smith, who finished with 10 points. “In the first half we were sluggish, didn’t get out and running. The second half we picked it up and started doing good things.”

Walters led Skyline with 12 points, while Parker chipped in seven for the Hawks.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com