MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — With their backs pressed firmly against the wall, a little Hart was just was the King’s Knights needed.
Senior forward Sam Hartman’s season-high 15 points and six rebounds were the perfect complement to another herculean display by teammate Chris Faidley.
Together, the duo was an unstoppable inside-outside force in a winner-to-state/loser-out Class A Tri-district playoff game against University Prep Monday night at Mountlake Terrace High School.
King’s clobbered the Pumas 70-53 to clinch its fourth consecutive trip — and sixth in seven years — to the state championships.
The two-time defending state champions were scheduled to face Charles Wright last night for a shot at third or fourth place. The winner moves on to face the winner between Orcas/LaConner March 1. The loser plays for fifth and sixth.
“All these games are do or die,” Hartman said. “You’ve got to put everything you’ve got out there.”
Hartman certainly did.
By halftime he collected 10 points, gliding to the hoop for a succession of layups as the Knights began to distance themselves from the Emerald City League champs.
“Our plan was to say, ‘Sam, the game’s yours until they want to come inside and stop you,’” King’s coach Marv Morris said. “And Sam took care of it in the middle. Unless they changed what they were going to do, Sam was the catalyst of how things were going to go.”
When he wasn’t attacking the basket, Hartman was finding Faidley spotting up on the perimeter.
“I was trying to find holes and make them collapse on me and kick out to one of our shooters,” Hartman said.
Faidley scored 10 points during a 16-7 second-quarter run by the Knights — including a 3-pointer, three free throws and a putback in a two-minute span — and supplied 11 of their 14 third-quarter points.
King’s (13-9 overall) extended its 16-point halftime lead to 49-30 midway through the third period on back-to-back layins from Faidley.
The junior guard finished with 30 points on 11-for-17 shooting — his second 30-point performance in three games — and added six rebounds and three steals.
Despite making just one of their 14 attempts from 3-point range, the Knights shot 40 percent from the field and outrebounded University Prep 38 to 28.
“Our game plan was to try and take advantage of the risks they take,” Morris said. “They’re always doubling and they take chances everywhere to steal the ball. If it’s working you’re in bad shape. But if it doesn’t work, you have opportunities to burn them and get easy shots.”
Senior post John Zevenbergen grabbed eight boards to go with his seven points and drew four charges on defense for the Knights.
“Everybody came out and did their part,” Hartman said. “We had guys diving on the floor and taking charges and doing all the little things that make the difference.”
The Pumas (14-7) cut their deficit to 14 two minutes into the fourth quarter but never got closer.
“Defensively, we really toughened up in the second half,” Morris said. “They had a hard time dealing with our defense.”
A 45-38 opening round loss to Northwest A League champ LaConner Feb. 21 knocked King’s to the loser’s bracket. Two weeks earlier, the Knights won a league tiebreaker just to qualify for the postseason.
“It’s almost scary to me a bit. We seem to play better when we absolutely have to,” Morris confessed. “So far, that’s been what’s happening. I just need more consistency out of this team.”
The past two seasons, the Knights didn’t reach their peak until the state tournament.
“We’ve always been a late-blooming team and everybody knows that,” Faidley said. “When we come together we’re going to be a hard team to beat, especially at state.”