Conservatively, maybe 10 true jumpers, and almost none of the stand-still version, had been launched all game as the players drove, drove and drove some more. As the clock wound down, King's Gerald Scott made slight penetration . . . Ah, but then he whipped a pass to the left corner. Paulk caught it, did a deep knee-bend, launched and . . .
The delirious Cougars ran to Paulk and beat him to a pulp, in a good way. Soon, the Hawks were sprinting to the midcourt area across from the scorers' table. A disturbance was taking place at the foot of the stands, and they feared the mother of player Shakoor Woodson, who'd offered gamelong encouragment, was being attacked.
Hardly. As multiple King personnel said later, the fight involved two female spectators with King ties, a current and former student. One wound up stomping the other.
As the scene again became peaceful - almost all spectators were ordered to leave; Hope's players were herded into a gym office right behind their bench - the officials said 2.6 seconds should be returned to the clock. If the game was going to be finished, that is.
In time, a call was placed to Ben Dubin, the PL basketball chairman, who'd actually been on the scene before leaving 2 minutes into the fourth quarter. He gave the go-ahead to finish, he said later, because the gym had been emptied and Hope deserved a chance to go for a tie. Also, he agreed with the refs' verdict not to hit King's players with technical fouls for running onto the court; they'd been justified in thinking the game had ended.
So what happened in the resumption? Shamear Townsend took an inbound pass from Walter Ransome near midcourt and wound up launching a leaping, right-wing trey from about 5 feet behind the arc. The ball came oh-so-close, hitting the heel of the rim.
King 44, Hope 41.
Finally, Malik Paulk could express his feelings, then head home for some love.
"When I walk in the door, I'll have a smile on my face and my mom [Kennitha Thomas] will say to me, 'I know you won! Come give me a hug!' " Paulk said. "I've been getting a lot of those kind during basketball season. In football, I'd still get'em, but they were the trying-to-make-me-feel-better kind. These are better."
Paulk finished with six points. He was 0-for-4 on treys beforehand and 1-for-8 overall, plus only 1-for-3 at the line. Not exactly the kind of performance that usually merits last-shot honors.
"Our plan was to have [Scott] drive, so he'd get doubled, then hit me in the corner behind a pick [from William Leak]," Paulk said. "With all the driving, I'm not sure why we went with that play. But we did, and it worked. Hit threes. That's what I do, usually."
So, what happened in this one?
"I'm asking myself that same question," he said, laughing. "But when it came down to the wire, at least I hit it."
Riyadh Brown, King's leading scorer this season, settled for one point. Leak (12), Aaron Jackson (11) and Scott (10) managed double figures, and Nafis Streeter claimed eight rebounds.
For Hope, 6-5 strongman Tramayne Brooks, an honor-roll student, tomahawked three dunks en route to 16 points, while adding 10 boards and three apiece of steals and blocks. Woodson (10 points) shot 8-for-8 at the line, and Zahir Firby had four steals.
In football, Paulk was the leading rusher (333 yards) for a 3-8 squad that got crushed by archrival Germantown in the season finale.
"It's rough being on a team with only three wins, especially since football's my favorite sport," he said. "But now here I am in basketball and we're 10-1 [7-0 in Pub]. Feels great. After our first three games, I was saying, 'We're gonna be good this year.' "
Paulk lives on Louise Road, not far from Limekiln Pike and Haines, and hopes to become a construction engineer. His next stop could be Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa.
Next time he hits a clutch, late-game shot, he doesn't want his world to stop for 19 minutes.
"That was crazy," he said.