WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Ti Fulton dribbled once, spun around to her left and kissed the basketball high off the glass before watching her game-winning shot fall through the net with five seconds to play Saturday afternoon.
Fulton scored the final five points of the game to give her Mason Comets girls’ basketball team a 44-42 win over Greater Miami Conference rival Lakota West, whose GMC winning streak came to an end at 39 games.
It was somewhat of a coming out party for the junior forward who spent the past two seasons playing behind Lauren Van Kleunan, who is now a freshman on the Marquette University women’s basketball team.
“You could say that, yeah,” Fulton said through a beaming smile.
West led by three points after a driving layup by junior Abby Prohaska, a University of Notre Dame recruit, with 50 seconds to play. But Fulton drew a foul while hitting a layup 20 seconds later and she sank the free throw to tie the game.
Prohaska then turned the ball over in the paint with a chance at the go-ahead basket, setting up Fulton’s heroics.
“Megan (Wagner) was coming down and she got cut off,” Fulton said. “She dished it off and I went up with it, just hoping to the high lord that he would take me in. I put it in.
“It’s just a great, great feeling.”
Fulton had been an untapped resource on the court the past two seasons, according to Mason coach Rob Matula.
“She was in a position as a freshman and sophomore behind Lauren Van Kleunan and she didn’t get as much time as we would like for her,” Matula said. “But when you’re behind a 6-3 Division I athlete, it’s tough. She has really blossomed and that’s huge. For her, confidence-wise, we know what she is capable of. We’ve seen it.”
She is athletic, strong around the basket and has good hands. Yet, Matula has had to plead with her at times in the past to take chances at plays.
“I’ve said, ‘Ti, take a chance,’” Matula said. “You can’t be passive in life and get through life. You’ve got to get aggressive. She is fast and she’s got good moves around the basket. She has unbelievable hands when she grabs it. She is just a really good basketball player.”
Fulton finished with a game-high 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field. She made 4 of 5 free throws and grabbed five rebounds in 24 minutes on the court. With Mason sophomore standout Sammie Puisis struggling with foul trouble early in the game and finishing with eight points, and leading scorer Samari Mowbray adding nine,
Fulton was one of many Comets to step up.
“She is always positive and is always working hard,” Puisis said. “She motivates others. In today’s game, she never gave up and she wanted it. You could see that fight in her. She wanted to ball. She wanted to make a move and get us that winning basket. She did a great job.”
When she had that chance to use her athleticism to make a play at the end of the game, she took it right away. It’s an experience she hopes leads to more such success down the road this season.
“When the time comes, it just makes me feel more accomplished and want to be more of a leader on the court,” Fulton said.
The final tally was only the third lead of the game for Mason and Fulton gave the Comets the lead each time. She hit a free throw early in the game for a 1-0 lead and then made two free throws with 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter for a 30-29 lead after West had led 23-16 early in the second half.
Puisis hit a jumper early in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 32-32, but West led the rest of the way until Fulton’s final five points.
“Just keep the positive energy about it,” Fulton said. “Coach Matula is always telling us to keep up the high intensity. No matter what happens, just keep a high energy and that’s what we do. That’s our team. That’s what we do.”
Saturday was the second straight win over West for Mason, who knocked off the Firebirds in the regional final last March. West swept the regular-season series last season and hadn’t lost a GMC game since a 55-54 final on Jan. 11, 2014, at Mason.
Sophomore guard Bryana Henderson led Lakota West Saturday with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field, including 2 of 2 3-pointers.
“This is what friendly rivalries should be about with both teams out there busting their (butts) and respect each other,” Matula said. That’s what’s great about playing these teams and playing the schedule that we play. You have to play these kinds of games to get yourself ready for hopefully a long tournament."
Mason and Lakota West will meet again Jan. 28 at 2 p.m. at Mason.