Lakewood’s Justice Taylor goes for an acrobatic layup against Sammamish Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, during a Class 2A regional matchup at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lakewood’s Justice Taylor goes for an acrobatic layup against Sammamish Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, during a Class 2A regional matchup at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lakewood boys hold off Sammamish to reach Hardwood Classic

The Cougars race out to a big lead early and hold off the Redhawks 61-53 in the loser-out state game.

EVERETT — For many years the Lakewood boys basketball team was already looking ahead to the next season when the state tournament rolled around.

In the 37-year stretch from when the school opened in 1982 to 2019, the Cougars never qualified for a state tournament.

Lakewood now has two state tournaments on its resume during the past two full-length seasons.

Justice Taylor poured in 23 points, Andrew Molloy added 12 points and 16 rebounds and ninth-seeded Lakewood (15-6) held on for a 61-53 victory over 16th-seeded Sammamish (14-11) in a loser-out Class 2A state regional game Saturday at Everett Community College.

“It’s great,” said Molloy, a senior, of making a second trip to the Yakima Valley SunDome for the Hardwood Classic. “I’ve watched a lot of bad basketball in my days. It’s good to be part of a good team and go to state and make some memories along the way.”

Molloy was a menace on the glass all game long with 10 of his 16 rebounds coming on offense and often times leading to second-chance buckets. He finished with 12 points and broke the Cougars’ single-season offensive rebound record with his performance, despite Lakewood having six games canceled earlier this season.

Cougars coach Anthony Wiederkehr said Molloy’s season total is now at 102 or 103.

“Andy was the reason we one this game,” Wiederkehr said. “… He did an incredible job. All those second-chance opportunities are so big, especially in a game like this when it comes down to a few possessions.”

When Molloy wasn’t ripping down rebounds and finishing putback attempts, senior point guard Justice Taylor was scoring from all over the court. Taylor, a multi-sport standout who’s signed to play football at Central Washington University, showed his versatile scoring arsenal by connecting on three 3-pointers, scoring with his back to basket in the paint and driving to the hoop for layups. He netted a game-high 23 points and also had a number of assists.

But those key performances almost went for not after Lakewood saw its 16-point, first-quarter lead dwindle to just four in the waning moments of the final quarter.

The Cougars opened the game on a 21-5 run but couldn’t pull away, and that left the door open for a Sammamish comeback.

The Redhawks cut their deficit to nine points by halftime and the teams went back and forth in the third. Molloy’s hook shot from the right block just before the buzzer gave Lakewood a 50-38 advantage heading into the final period.

Sammamish’s Reuben Kizer scored back-to-back buckets to spark a 13-5 run that made it 55-51 and lasted from the start of the fourth to the 3:02 mark.

Molloy extended the lead to 57-51 before Rehan Luthra scored on a putback to make it a four-point game again with 1:45 left.

But the Cougars clamped down, didn’t allow another point and Blake Conyers connected on all four of his free-throw attempts down the stretch to secure the win.

“Luckily, we got a little pad there in the first because I felt like for a lot of that game we were playing not to lose the game,” Wiederkehr said. “We weren’t playing to win anymore. … The mindset needs to be to put them away (and) put the foot on the gas. When you’re up 10, the mentality is get up 20. When you’re up 20, the mentality is get up 30. And I feel like we just tried to protect an eight-to-10-point lead most of the game.

“That’s one thing that we can take away from this is that, when you’re playing a game at state when seasons are on the line, no one is ever going to give up. Hopefully, if we find ourselves in that situation in Yakima, we can really put our foot on the gas and put a team away.”

Lakewood never trailed after Evan Stacey drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner on the game’s opening possession. Taylor scored seven of his points and Molloy six during the first.

Jaydon Adams scored six points during a 10-0 Redhawks run that made it 25-19 midway through the second. Mason Weller and Taylor hit triples late in the second for a 33-24 lead at halftime.

Weller chipped in eight points and Conyers seven for the Cougars.

Zakarie Abdul Kadir, Luthra and Kizer scored 10 points apiece to lead the Redhawks (14-11).

Lakewood moves on to face eight-seeded Sehome, a familiar Northwest Conference foe, in the first round of the 2A Hardwood Classic on Wednesday at 9 p.m. at the Yakima Valley SunDome.

“It’s so memorable and I’m really happy for the seniors,” Wiederkehr said. “… Just through these last years of COVID and through all the cancellations we had earlier and everything else, I’m especially thankful to be able to get here for them. No matter what’s happened with COVID the last two years, they’re going to leave their senior year on a positive note, which is great.”

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