By his own admission, VJ Wilmington didn’t have one of his better shooting nights Friday for Davenport North — until it mattered most.
The senior hit the final three free throws he attempted in the game’s final 37 seconds, stepping up to provide the difference for the Wildcats in a 58-55 Mississippi Athletic Conference boys basketball win over Davenport Assumption.
"I was having a tough night shooting. Things didn’t feel right, but I didn’t let that beat me," Wilmington said. "When it was on the line, I knocked them down."
Wilmington did the same after the Knights had taken a 51-50 lead when Dylan Peeters hit the second of two tries at the line with 2 minutes, 31 seconds remaining.
His basket on the ensuing possession gave North a lead it wouldn’t relinquish, an advantage that grew to 54-51 on a basket by TJ Vesey with 1:02 to play.
The Wildcats finished things off at the line, connecting on four-of-six tries in the final :37, including three by Wilmington.
"We’ve spent a lot of time lately shooting free throws in practice simulating those situations, down two with a couple of seconds left, down one, that type of thing," Wilmington said. "It’s giving us confidence that’s carrying over to games."
That showed in this week’s results for North, following Tuesday’s two-point win at Bettendorf with Friday’s three-point victory that gives the Wildcats seven wins in their first 11 games, matching last season’s win total at the midpoint of the conference season.
North accomplished that by making plays late in the back-and-forth game that saw Assumption take a 38-37 lead into the final quarter after the Knights’ Trent Fitzpatrick knocked down a buzzer-beating shot from beyond the midcourt stripe for the second time in three games.
Friday’s effort, nearly matching his three-quarter court shot a week earlier against Bettendorf, allowed Assumption to claw its way in front despite a sluggish third quarter and set up a back-and-forth battle to the finish.
The lead changed hands six times before a 3-pointer by Max Taylor tied the game at 49-49 with 3:03 remaining.
"We had some guys step up and hit some big shots down the stretch, and VJ, he missed a couple of free throws early in the fourth quarter, but when they mattered, he came through," Wildcats coach Joe Ewen said.
"He showed some senior leadership down the stretch, just what we needed. We’re learning how to win games like this."
Keenan Hollingshed led the Wildcats (7-4, 5-4 MAC) with 14 points, an effort complemented by 12 points from Max Taylor and an 11-point, eight-rebound performance by Rock Island transfer Lacey Watson, playing his first game for North.
About the only thing the Wildcats didn’t have an answer for was Sean Peeters, who scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half and grabbed 13 rebounds for Assumption (5-6, 5-4).
Peeters went 8-for-12 from the floor, while the rest of the Knights were a combined 12-of-38.
"We didn’t do a lot right," Assumption coach Matt Fitzpatrick said. "We had to miss six lay-ups in the first half, and in the second half, our defense was nonexistent. We just didn’t come out ready to play, and in the end, that came back to bite us."