The daunting basketball atmosphere at the Tacoma Dome reminds Erik Stevenson of the Under Armour Association circuit he played on the past two years.
Stevenson, who will play Division I basketball at Wichita State next season, had plenty of success on that stage under the bright lights.
But, that production hadn’t translated to high school basketball’s biggest stage at the Class 3A state tournament.
Until this week.
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Stevenson racked up a game-high 31 points Friday afternoon at the Tacoma Dome to send sixth-ranked Timberline High School to a trophy game for the first time since 1981 in a 73-65 win over No. 10 Wilson.
He has 97 points in three games at the tournament, eclipsing the modern record set by Michael Porter Jr. (90) last season with Nathan Hale.
Porter, a freshman at Missouri, led Nathan Hale to an undefeated title in his only season at the school, is expected to be a top 10 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
“Erik is special,” said Timberline coach Allen Thomas, who has coached Stevenson throughout his high school career.
Stevenson also broke Porter’s record for most field goals made (35), as well as three other modern tournament records for total steals (13), field goals attempted (70), 3-point field goals attempted (30). Modern records include all tournament games played from 2011 to present.
“I have to come out and be a different beast, and that’s what I tried to do these last three games,” Stevenson said. “Hopefully I can do it tomorrow.”
Timberline (21-7) will meet sixth-ranked Kelso (22-5) in a rematch of the 3A state regionals at 8 a.m. Saturday for fourth or sixth place.
Timberline has played in just three other trophy games in program history, with its best finish being a state title at the Seattle Coliseum in 1980.
But, the Blazers almost didn’t make it to this fourth appearance. Wilson led for most of the second half Friday, and led by as many as nine points in the final three minutes.
“I think it’s about our seniors,” Thomas said. “Our seniors did not want to go out on a bad note. Their goal was to play on the last day of the season, and we get to do that.”
Stevenson scored 10 points in the final two minutes as part of an impassioned comeback, and point guard Eli Morton sunk five clutch free throws, as the Blazers closed the game on a 17-0 run.
What exactly did the Blazers find those final two minutes with their season in jeopardy?
“Character,” Thomas said. “We talk about it a lot. We’ve been preaching it as a coaching staff to our guys. In adversity, you figure out what you’ve got.
“Especially after a tough loss to Lincoln (in the quarterfinals), it could have been really easy to just give up. But they have heart, and they have true character.”
Timberline’s trio of senior guards in Stevenson (who added nine rebounds, six blocks and four steals), Morton (13 points, seven rebounds, six assists) and Casson Rouse (10 points) willed the Blazers to the late win.
But, the Rams controlled the lead for most of the contest. Dominique Ellison, who was one of four Wilson players in double figures, gave the Rams the lead with 2:45 to play in the first half.
Wilson didn’t lose that lead until Timberline’s game-winning run.
Nathaniel Stokes scored a team-high 21 points and pulled down eight rebounds for the Rams, while Londrell Hamilton chipped in 12 points.
UConn-bound Emmitt Matthews Jr., who played AAU ball with Stevenson, and has been the face of Wilson’s program, finished with 14 points, five rebounds and five assists in the final game of his career.
“We got here, we did what we could, but we just couldn’t pull it out at the end,” said Matthews, who was the 3A Pierce County League MVP this season.
Matthews, a 6-foot-7 senior wing, was at one point expected to miss the state tournament with what was originally thought to be a severely broken wrist, but was later cleared.
Sitting on a table behind the bleachers after the heartbreaking loss, he said he was proud of the work he put in during his four years with the Rams, and how he and his teammates grew as players and leaders.
“I eat, sleep, breathe Wilson. I bled in this uniform. I played with a broken arm,” Matthews said. “I’m just trying to help my team no matter what.
“I wasn’t going to play for the rest of the postseason, but I needed to come out here and play with my brothers.”
Thomas came out of the locker room following the game to praise Matthews for his career, after the senior averaged 21.2 points, 8.9 rebounds per game his final season.
“He’s had a fantastic career,” Thomas said. “What he’s done at Wilson will be remembered forever. I have a lot of respect for him and what he does. He’s a tough kid.”
“I shook his hand and told him good career and I love him,” Stevenson said. “I wish him the best at UConn, and I’ll see him at UConn games when I’m playing for Wichita.”
Stevenson, who is averaging a career-high 24.9 points per game this season, has 1,840 points in his career with one game to play.
He broke the modern Thurston County all-time scoring record late in the third quarter Friday, passing Ryan Jones (1,821), who played for Capital from 1995-97.
With 2:21 to play in the third, Stevenson pulled down a rebound, and was swarmed in the paint by four Wilson defenders. He dribbled out, circled around pulled up for a 12-footer to seal the record.
NO. 5 TIMBERLINE
NO. 10 WILSON
T – Rouse 10, Morton 13, Stevenson 31, Joubert 4, Faalogo 6, Campau 8, Warick 1
W – Green 1, Matthews 14, Stokes 21, Hamilton 12, Bates 4, Mitchell 3, Ellison 10