Washington boys basketball coach Kevin Brown has been in the Final Four of the state basketball tournament and has had three tries at the super-sectional — he’s well-versed in the art of big games, and big losses.
But, it was Thursday morning that was the most trying time in his Panthers’ tenure.
Washington entered Thursday 1-2 in the Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament with losses to Normal West and a late drubbing by Pekin Wednesday night.
For Brown, Thursday’s 57-47 win over Arlington Heights Hersey was all about his team’s response after a tough loss to Pekin.
“I want to see when something goes wrong on the floor, what your response is,” Brown said. “That’s been our problem the last three days — our response has been negative. (Thursday), there were times that guys did things wrong or made a mistake — a lack of hustle or didn’t get a box out — and before I could get them off the floor, they already had a positive response.”
Devin Whitelow scored a game-high 20 points for Washington, including 11 in the third quarter to give the Panthers (8-5) a 39-27 lead entering the final quarter.
Before the game, Brown sent his players to talk to Whitelow to make their case for playing time.
“I’ve got a point guard that nobody else has got,” Brown said of Whitelow. “He’s got incredible heart. What went on in the last 24 hours with him and this team is unbelievable.”
“We had a wake up call this morning. We had an emotional talk,” Whitelow said. “I think it woke a lot of guys up. We finally realized we need to play as a team and go back to how we were playing at the beginning of the season.”
Washington led Hersey 21-17 with 2:58 left in the first half before the Panthers had a near turnover. Junior Tairae Hersemann dove for the ball to keep the possession in Washington’s favor. On the out of bounds play, the junior knocked down a 3-point attempt in the corner to give the Panthers a 24-17 lead. Hersey never got closer than three points the rest of the way.
The Huskies opened the third quarter with a quick layup, and a steal on the inbounds pass to draw within three points, 24-21.
Whitelow responded on the other end with a four-point play to give the Panthers breathing room again.
Heresemann knocked down 6-of-6 free throws in the fourth quarter, part of his 12 points, to seal the game for the Panthers.
Collin Dietz added 12 points to go along with six rebounds and Adrian Ware scored 10 for the Panthers.
Brown usually gives his team three days off after the tournament, but will not be doing the same thing this year.
“I feel like it would be short-changing this team,” Brown said.
The post-play was better Thursday than it had been all tournament, Brown said, crediting J.J. Gudet for his work in the paint.
“It doesn’t take a whole lot to please coach Brown, but it also doesn’t take a whole lot to get in the doghouse sometimes,” Brown said.
Washington hosts Pekin at 7 p.m. Jan. 6.