Watson thrives under pressure in Northeast's win over Palmer

Posted: January 17, 2014

THREE DRIBBLES, slight knee bend, deep breath, and then fire. The sequence is simple enough, but when the pressure is on and your team needs two free throws to seal a late victory, it's anything but easy.

Northeast High junior Elmange Watson found himself in that spot yesterday. The 5-10 guard stepped to the line clinging to a one-point lead at host Palmer Charter with 32 seconds remaining.

"I have to do it for my team," he recalled thinking. "We need it. We need this win."

Watson drained both with a high-arching, confident stroke. Then, after Palmer's Demetrius White missed a three-point heave, Northeast senior Will Smart collected the rebound and quickly played hot potato back to Watson.

Eventually, four more Watson freebies touched nothing but net, and the Vikings (6-5, 2-3) escaped with a 75-68 Public League C triumph.

"This is his team," NE coach Ira Stern said just before the game.

The crown is heavy, but Watson doesn't shy from his responsibility. He finished with 34 points on 11-for-19 shooting and three of five from three. His six, clutch singles (nine of 13) down the stretch thwarted an 11-0 Palmer push that made it 69-68.

As a team, Northeast shot only 13 of 22 (59 percent) at the line.

"There's a lot of weight put on me," Watson said. "As a leader, I feel like I just need to keep my team focused. As you can see, it got a little rough, but I had to calm things down and get everyone on the same page."

Last season, Watson was the sixth man on a Northeast squad that went 11-4 overall, 9-3 in league play, and won a playoff game. Now, he's the man.

"I won't say it's the hardest job, but it's one that not too many can do," he said. "There's a lot of pressure put on you, and there's a lot of things going on, and it gets stressful. It's a lot of stress. So, you just have to stay focused as a leader."

It hasn't all been pretty. Though Watson scored 38 points on Tuesday in a victory against Mastery Charter North, Stern still lamented his occasionally poor shot selection.

Turnovers and bad decisions marred large chunks for both teams yesterday. The Vikings finished with 28 miscues, while the Lions (3-9, 1-6) had 22. Awful shots would have pushed the total further north.

Watson had no problem copping to his blunders.

"I struggle a lot mentally," he said. "I kind of rush the game, and I don't pick my spots. I might take a bad shot in the lane with three defenders, but that's just the fire in me."

Tyriq Wilson (5-for-7, 2-for-5 at the foul line) was the only other Viking in double figures. Senior guard Demetrius White led Palmer with 23 points, four assists and five steals. Fellow seniors Jarratt McLaurin and Christopher Glover added 19 and 11, respectively (each also had five rebounds).

The Lions stormed back from a 69-57 deficit with 2:45 left in the game, but ultimately, a 4-for-11 performance at the foul line proved costly.

As for Watson, who lives near Summerdale Avenue near the Tarken Recreation Center, the pressure has subsided over time. He now lives with an aunt and other family members, but grew up in North Philadelphia near 17th and Cumberland. He reports a 3.5 GPA and aspirations for college basketball (though no serious interest yet).

He said his father got mixed up in drugs and is incarcerated. When asked whether he wanted to keep the information private, Watson didn't hesitate.

"That's my motivation," he said. "That's why I push to be as strong as I can every day, because I know my dad is in a rough situation, and I don't want to end up like that.

"It's motivation to me. I actually like to talk to little kids about what I've been through, so it motivates them and shows them that even though I started off bad, I can actually make it further."

On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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