When his team needed it most, Christian Gurdak reached up and pulled down a critical rebound, then nailed two free throws to clinch a championship.
Gonzaga College High School from Washington, D.C., won the King Cotton Holiday Classic with a 76-72 win Friday night against Westminster Academy from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
Head coach Stephen Turner said Gonzaga won by remaining calm.
“At the end of the game, our guys are tired,” Turner said. “It’s been three tough games here in a great event. But the biggest thing is, they stayed poised, and they didn’t let themselves rattle under the pressure. When it mattered most, they grabbed the rebound they needed to grab. Our big fellow knocked down the free throws.” Gonzaga (11-0) led much of the game, but the Lions fought back in the fourth quarter.
Westminster (8-3) took a 72-71 lead when Alex Constanza ripped a rebound away from a Gonzaga player and laid it in. The Eagles answered when Nyk Lewis scored while drawing a foul with 13.7 to play. Lewis completed the three-point play.
The Lions’ Alex Lloyd, who led Westminster with 27 points, drew a foul with 3.5 seconds left. He could have tied the game by making both free throws but missed the first.
Westminster called a timeout to discuss strategy. Lloyd then intentionally missed the second free throw, but Gurdak collected the game-saving rebound for Gonzaga.
After Gurdak made two free throws to make it a two-possession game, Westminster put up a half-court prayer that missed wide left as the Eagles celebrated finishing the weekend 3-0.
Turner said the Eagles take pride in winning a tournament such as King Cotton.
“We’re representing our area, D.C. and the DMV [D.C, Maryland, Virginia],” Turner said. “We don’t just come here to represent just ourselves. We come to represent our area, because we believe it’s the best area for basketball in all of America.” Gonzaga reached the championship after cruising through the first two rounds.
The Eagles opened the tournament by defeating St. Joseph (Santa Maria, Calif.) 68-48 behind a 20-point performance from Gurdak and 18 points from Derek Dixon. Gonzaga then beat Pine Bluff 91-70 thanks in part to 23 points from Nyk Lewis and 21 from Dixon.
Turner said the teams Gonzaga faced helped the Eagles take a step forward in their development.
“Westminster’s preseason top-25 [in the country],” Turner said. “They were ranked higher than us in the preseason. Pine Bluff’s going to win probably another state title this year, and St. Joseph came in here 10-0 so, opportunity to play three really, really good teams from three different regions that played three different styles, which is what we like to see so we have an opportunity when we get back to feel like we’ve seen a little bit of everything.” Westminster took down a pair of Arkansas schools to qualify for the championship game, beating Little Rock Christian Academy 58-43 and Little Rock Central 58-49.