WESTHILL — Perhaps no game better defined the Westhill boys basketball team than the one that carried it into the Class LL Final Four on Friday night.
For eight minutes Jeremiah Livingston struggled, missing hard-degree-of-difficulty drives he usually converts, even a free throw. At times he had a hard time shaking the defense of Crosby’s Mike Munoz.
“I was upset with my play,” Livingston said.
The result? When he scored his first point, with 6:11 left in the first half, the Vikings trailed by just 18-17. Juan Delacruz made two jump shots, Brendon Thomas hit a jumper and scored on a putback. Tyrell Alexander and CJ Donaldson, the other two starters, also scored.
Livingston would morph back into his Super Viking role, score 31 more points and Westhill advanced with a 66-60 win over No. 7 Crosby in the quarterfinals.
“We rely on Jeremiah to do a lot, but he relies on us just as much, so whenever he needs help we step up to do what we can,” said Alexander, who scored 12 points during a season in which he has performed with the consistency of a metronome.
It would be foolish to think the Vikings would be where they are without Livingston, who is having one of the best individual seasons in league history, seemingly finding a new way each night to drive and put the ball in the basket amid a wall of outstretched arms.
But it would be just as foolish to think the Vikings would be preparing for Hartford Public in Tuesday’s semifinals without the players whose contributions outshine their notoriety.
“We need to feed off of that,” said Westhill coach Howard White. “We had to have a team effort, not just a one-man wrecking crew that (Crosby) thought we had. They have been doing this all year so this was nothing new to them.”
Like Livingston, the second-seeded Vikings hardly played a perfect 32 minutes. There were way too many turnovers and there were times they were outplayed on their defensive glass, particularly by Crosby’s Zaron Love, who was relentless in defeat.
The first half was mostly non-stop, ragged schoolyard ball until the Vikings scored 14 unanswered points to take a 31-19 advantage in the final two minutes.
Westhill played with the lead for all but 25 seconds the rest of the way, though Crosby always came through with a 3-point shot or second-chance basket to stay close.
The Vikings’ seemingly commanding 41-32 lead with just under four minutes left in the third quarter would soon become a 43-42 deficit.
Livingston has been a closer all year, delivering in the fourth quarter, and Friday was no different as he scored 16 points. But Alexander and Donaldson did their share of damage early in the period.
“We struggle, but another guy steps up to the plate,” White said.
It has been that way for three months. The Vikings have remained close not just because of their teamwork on the court but away from it as well.
It all starts because Livingston commands the spotlight but doesn’t demand it.
“We have a bunch of good players on this team and it shows,” Livingston said. “This is a team full of guys that just want to win.”
Alexander was asked if he was ever jealous of the publicity Livingston receives.
“Never,” he said. “I just want to win basketball games and Jeremiah gives us the best chance to do that. We all know our roles.”
By following them, the Vikings’ season lives on.
And Alexander had a promise for his fellow semifinalists: “We’re not done yet.”