ARLINGTON — As the lead against Long Trail dwindled to two points, Arlington boys basketball coach Chris Taft told his team during a timeout they would have to play defense for as long as they could.
"I told them, let [Long Trail] make the mistake," Taft said. "Sometimes kids think they have to make the play, a lot of times, you can make it so they don't make the play."
The Arlington defense hawked for nearly a minute, forcing a traveling violation, then made their free throws to edge the Lions, 50-48, on Monday night at the Eagles' Nest.
After the turnover, Long Trail fouled Jared Lacoste, who hit 1-of-2 from the stripe. The Lions came back down and Levin Coe got around the defense to cut the lead to 48-46. On the inbounds, Brandon Gamble was fouled and he calmly made a pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game at 50-46.
"Those were some big free throws at the end," Taft said. "He's a senior with a lot of games under his belt, and the same with Jared as a junior. That experience paid off tonight."
Arlington took a 41-33 lead into the final quarter, but Long Trail chipped away to cut the advantage to four, at 44-40, with 3:47 remaining. Evan Crumb hit a layup with 2:57 to go to make it 44-42 and after Austin Hawley missed a pair from the line, a Levin Coe jumper tied the game at 44 with 2:09 to go.
"We were trying to be aggressive and it took us out of possession a little," Taft said. "They were getting some easy hoops which we take pride in stopping."
On the Eagles' next possession, some nice ball movement got it to freshman Jack Lane, who drained a triple from the wing for a 47-44 lead.
Long Trail turned over the ball on its next possession, but a tie-up gave the ball back to the Lions.
"We went to half-court, man-to-man, the shell drill," Taft said. "I said, this one possession can win it for us and the kids stuck it out."
Nate Mattison, who led the Eagles with 15 points, said he saw his team was ready to play defense as long as necessary.
"We had to put in the work to get the stop," Mattison said. "It was like, what can we do to keep the lead? We tried to play smart and slow [things] down a little."
Long Trail's Liam Sheldon led all scorers with 19 points.
"They play a really nice 2-3 zone and we played their tempo tonight," Taft said. "We want the tempo to be faster, but we only did that for about four or five minutes."
In the first half, the Lions took a 12-7 lead after eight minutes, but Arlington sped up and outscored Long Trail 18-13 in the second quarter — on the strength of four 3-pointers.
Arlington rolled out to a larger lead as the third quarter went on, leading by 10 at one point before Long Trail came back in the fourth.
"We rebounded really well in the second half, the kids buckled down," Taft said. "This was a gutsy win and those help you in February."
Arlington travels to Springfield on Dec. 29 after starting the season 4-1.
"It's tough with the holiday, people are so busy," Taft said. "We've set a goal for one game at a time, we're a quarter of the way through the season, now we'll sit and re-evaluate where we are."