THE GAME still was about 4 minutes from tipoff yesterday afternoon when Haverford School basketball coach Henry Fairfax stood in front of his bench with folded arms that matched his pensive brow.
"I haven't been happy with the way we've responded to adversity," Fairfax said. "Hopefully that will change today."
The third-year coach got his wish, and a victory, when the Fords gave up a late lead but prevailed against visiting Bishop McDevitt in overtime, 68-65.
A pair of smooth, confidently stroked free throws by sophomore forward Lamar Stevens with 4.4 seconds left in regulation knotted the game at 61.
And, with 0.8 seconds left in the bonus frame, junior guard Derek Mountain slipped a pass to sophomore Lukas Rosenbohm, which resulted in the game-winning three-point play.
"I just knew I had to knock them down for my teammates," Stevens said. "We're trying not to lose on our home court anymore, and I just knew I had to knock them down."
The Fords' previous four victories had come by an average of 25 points. Not exactly nail-biters. Their two defeats averaged just 7.5.
However, per PIAA rule, they went without 6-7 senior Eric Anderson, a fifth-year player who committed to Yale, and eighth-grader Cameron Reddish, a 6-3 guard.
The result was what Fairfax was looking for.
Haverford junior Levan Alston Jr. led all scorers with 29 points, including 22 in the first half.
Stevens finished with 18 points, five rebounds and three blocks. Mountain tallied eight points, nine assists and four boards.
"It's really relieving," Mountain said of the win. "Coach talked about getting a tough, gritty win for us because we've had our blowouts and we've had sloppy games, but we never had a tough game where we had to come back and trust each other like that."
With Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli in attendance, Alston - the son of former Temple guard Levon Alston - was 7-for-12 from the three-point line and added a fastbreak dunk for an early 14-7 advantage.
It appeared McDevitt (4-4) would succumb after trailing at intermission, 39-28.
However, the Royal Lancers rallied behind 23 points and 10 rebounds by Tyrell Long and 21 points by Amin Taylor, whose go-ahead three capped a 14-2 run with less than 30 seconds remaining and gave McDevitt a 61-59 advantage. An aggressive, attacking brand of defense did the trick in the second half after the Fords manipulated the Lancers' previously passive zone.
But the critical freebies by Stevens squared the final moments of regularly scheduled programming. And, with a big grin, the North Wales resident credited the dreaded free-throw-or-sprint drills that Fairfax employs at the end of practices.
"It does help because you know you've had the pressure before," he said. "It isn't really what is in games, but you still know you have to knock them down."
Next up for the Fords is the St. Benedictine Tournament in Richmond, Va. McDevitt will face Archbishop Wood on Jan. 3.
"We can definitely build off this," Mountain said. "Especially at the end. We weren't playing our best basketball . . . but we came back, stayed composed, hit shots and dug it out. That's what we needed."