Tip-in at buzzer puts Thunder Mountain in title game

Jeremy PetersThe New York Times

In all the years he has spent playing basketball with his identical twin, Josh Tupou had never seen Vili hit as big a shot as the one he hit Friday night at West High.

"I was actually kind of surprised," Josh said.

With his team trailing by a point and time evaporating, Vili Tupou jumped up and used one hand to tip in a missed layup by teammate Sam Jahn as the buzzer sounded, lifting Thunder Mountain to a 57-56 overtime win over Northwood, a team from Shreveport, La.

The semifinal victory earned the school from Juneau a spot in Saturday's championship game of the Alaska Airlines Classic. Thunder Mountain will play the Hoover Buccaneers of Alabama, who took a 75-59 win over Sagemont of Weston, Fla., in Friday's other semifinal.

Things didn't look good for Thunder Mountain, when Northwood's Hunter Bagley buried a 3-pointer to put the Louisianans up 56-55 with less than seven seconds remaining. Thunder Mountain needed to in-bound the ball at its own baseline and go the length of the floor in 6.4 seconds to attempt a game-winning shot.

"My brother passed it off to Sam Jahn," Vili Tupou said. "Sam Jahn kind of overshot it and I saw an opportunity to try and tip it back in."

Tupou made the play just before the buzzer sounded and the ball bounced on the rim a couple of times before falling. The Thunder Mountain bench emptied as the ball fell through and players celebrated the victory by jumping up and down around Vili.

"We're pretty happy," said Thunder Mountain's Matt Seymour, who nailed seven 3-pointers to lead all scorers with 27 points. "This is a great win for us and it just shows that our program is here to stay."

Thunder Mountain High School is only five years old. Its basketball team has taken a big step forward at the tournament, beating defending Class 4A state champion Dimond in Thursday's opening round and following up with a win against a tough out-of-state team Friday.

"It's absolutely huge," Thunder Mountain coach John Blasco said. "We've been building a program for four years and these kids have been together for the last four years, so they're best of friends and they want to do this together."

The winning tip-in was the second field goal of the game for Vili Tupou, who picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and spent much of the second half on the bench. The 5-foot-8 guard returned with about five minutes left in regulation and survived through the four-minute overtime period without fouling out.

"My coach had trust in me, told me to keep on playing and see what happens," he said.

The game was close throughout, with Thunder Mountain owning a 27-25 lead at halftime and a 42-40 lead through three quarters.

Northwood's Martavious Washington displayed a deft shooting touch on his way to a team-high 24 points. Washington had a chance to win the game in regulation, but missed a driving last-second shot along the baseline.

Though disappointed with the loss, Northwood is enjoying it's time in Alaska. The team visited Alyeska Ski Resort on Friday, where players participated in a snowball fight and took in the scenery.

"We travel like this every year, but this has been the best experience as far as the way they treat us," Northwood coach Larry Bagley said. "This is wonderful. David Williamson, the (athletic director) here, has just bent over backwards to do all he can do."

Hoover 75, Sagemont 59

Four players scored in double figures for the Hoover Buccaneers in a 75-59 semifinal victory over Sagemont that put the team from Hoover, Ala., into Saturday's championship game.

The Buccaneers led by a point after three quarters but won comfortably, outscoring Sagemont 31-16 in the final eight minutes.

Kaleb Baugh's 17 points and nine rebounds sparked Hoover. Joining Baugh in double figures were Quamauri Hardy (16 points), Brannon Defore (10) and Alex May (10).

Egor Koulechov pumped in 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead Sagemont of Weston, Fla.

Service 76, Eagle River 62

Adam Klie's 28 points and nine rebounds powered Service's 76-62 win over Eagle River.

Klie hit 8 of 15 from the field and 11 of 16 from the foul line for the Cougars, who led 39-29 at the half 62-40 after three quarters.

Kyllele Brown pitched in 11 points and six assists, Ihro Raguindin added 14 points and Amu Aukusitino 10 for Service.

Eagle River's Shaquin Rhoades canned 10 of 13 free throws en route to a team-high 20 points and was joined in double figures by Hunter Hill, who contributed 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds.

Dimond 46, West 42

Dimond overcame a 10-point deficit to beat West, starting a rally in the second quarter that put the Lynx on top 23-21 by halftime.

Led by 18 points from Damon Cikanek, Dimond held on in the second half, outscoring the Eagles by a point in both the third and fourth quarters.

Joe Riley pumped in a game-high 20 points for West, with Theo Oghide pulling down 11 rebounds. West outshot Dimond 35.3 percent to 30.2 percent and outrebounded the Lynx 44-29, but lost the turnover battle 21-13.