MILL CREEK — The Mountlake Terrace boys basketball team never gave up with its back against the wall.
The ninth-seeded Hawks trailed for almost the entirety of regulation during their loser-out Class 3A state regional clash with 16th-seeded Kelso on Saturday, but the Hilanders couldn’t put Terrace away late.
And boy, did they pay for that.
Zaveon Jones sent the game to overtime with a layup at the buzzer, Jeffrey Anyimah sank clutch free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime, and the Hawks (18-2) overcame a 14-point third-quarter deficit to punch their ticket to the Tacoma Dome with a 67-65 overtime victory over Kelso (15-9) at Jackson High School.
“Credit to these young men,” Terrace coach Nalin Sood said. “Whether we won or lost, I’d be telling you the same thing. They’re just an awfully resilient bunch and … they’ve got tremendous chemistry.”
Anyimah continued his torrid postseason run with a game-high 23 points, all coming after the first quarter. He made 7 of 8 free-throw attempts during the fourth and overtime and knocked down 11 of 12 overall. His third 3-pointer of the night pulled Terrace within 61-59 with 11.5 seconds remaining in regulation.
“That’s just his nature and his character,” Sood said of Anyimah’s standout performance. “That’s the confidence his teammates have in him. He’s had a really good postseason, whether things worked out today or not. I’m proud of him.”
Jones, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, had a double-double with 19 points and 14 rebounds despite giving up 4 inches to Kelso center Payton Stewart. He was a force in the paint while constantly ripping rebounds away from the Hilanders and using his physical style and touch near the rim to get buckets down low. Adison Mattix, a 6-4 senior who is signed to play baseball at the University of Hawaii, complemented Jones in the post with six points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
“You lose about two or three inches but we gain about six in terms of motor, and you can’t coach the motor,” Sood said of the matchup in the post. “Zaveon plays a lot bigger than he is because of his wingspan and because of his motor. He just goes after it. Adison, he’s a fairly strong kid. Those kids do a good job just battling down low for us. They battle, defend and rebound, and we like some of the things they do offensively.”
Vito Mkrtychyan chipped in 10 points, knocking down three crucial triples in second half, and helped slow down Kelso standout Michael Foust in the second half.
Foust led Kelso with 23 points, including five 3-pointers, before fouling out with 2:20 left in regulation. Stewart chipped in 14 points and Tyler Hays had 13.
Mkrtychyan drilled a 3-pointer from just off right corner to pull Terrace within 56-52 midway through the fourth. Mattix made it 56-53 at the 2:20 mark after splitting a pair of free throws. Mattix’s second attempt was off the mark and Foust was called for his fifth foul on the rebound attempt, leaving the Highlanders without their leading scorer for the rest of the game.
Ethan Mitchell’s floater put Kelso up 61-56 with 23 seconds left, but the Hawks quickly answered back when Anyimah pulled up from the right side for a 3-pointer to make it 61-59.
The Hilanders missed the front end of a one-and-one and left the door open for Terrace.
The Hawks came out a timeout and spread the floor with Anymiah taking the ball up top. He went left and drew the defense before dishing off to a wide-open Jones on the right block for the game-tying shot.
Terrace took a 65-61 lead late in the extra period with four made free throws, including two from Anyimah, while forcing Kelso into five turnovers.
The Hilanders struck back on Hays’ pull-up triple from the top of the arc with 6.7 seconds left, ending a scoreless drought over four minutes that reached back to the fourth.
Anyimah pushed the lead to 67-64 with two free throws, but Kelso had a chance to tie after Hays was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 0.5 seconds remaining.
Hays made the first attempt but missed the second. Kelso was called for a lane violation while trying to get a chance at a game-tying putback on the final attempt.
“It’s just always believing and having that mentality that you’re gonna win,” Anyimah said of the comeback.
It was all Kelso early on after Hays started an 8-0 run with a floater for a 12-11 lead late in the first. The Hilanders led the rest of the way until Jones tied it.
Terrace went 4:25 without scoring until Chris Meegan hit two free throws to make it 18-13 Highlanders at the 6:13 mark of the second.
Foust pushed the lead to 34-24 when he hit a deep, contested 3-pointer just before halftime, and Kelso led by as many as 14 after Foust and Hayden Yore scored back-to-back layups to start the third.
Mkrtychyan sank a pair of 3s and Anyimah and Jones combined for nine points in the third to keep Terrace in it.
“Not only (is Kelso) a good basketball team, you can see they’re really well-coached,” Sood said. “My hats off to them. It could have gone either way. Luckily, our kids got it done tonight.”
The Hawks sealed up their fourth Hardwood Classic appearance in the past five full-length seasons. They face eighth-seeded Timberline on Wednesday at 2 p.m. in Tacoma. It’ll be Terrace’s first appearance at the Tacoma Dome since 2013 after being a 2A school during the 2016-20 classification cycle.
“It feels amazing,” Anyimah said. “We wish we got a better seeding, but you can’t just sit there and moan about it. You’ve gotta move forward and have a good attitude and go play basketball. We’ve worked hard for this since the end of last year. It’s very exciting and truly rewarding.”