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October 22, 2011SOUTH JAMAICA, N.Y. - When people say that a game came down to the end, it means that it was a close contest until the clock read 0:00.
However, when the New York Panthers and Our Savior New American (OSNA) clashed on the hardwood of Intermediate School 8 as part of iS8/Nike Fall Tip-Off Classic's semifinal marquee matchup, the game, instead, came down to what was done after time expired.
Although it is the Panthers that would, ultimately, come away with the 77-76 win, coach Paul Ruddock knew coming into the game that it was not going to be an easy experience.
"All week I didn't sleep. All week I did not sleep because I knew it was going to be a [tough] game," Ruddock said. "We won, that's all I can say. We're [fortunate]."
And Our Savior justified Ruddock's sleepless nights, nearly forcing a nightmarish ending for the Panthers after time in regulation expired.
The Panthers started off the game springing into immediate action, spearheaded by Miami-commit, Melvin Johnson (game-high 27 points, 18 in the first half). His high-octane, point production was unmatched on the floor as the shooting guard thrust his team into a nine-point lead, 16-7 midway through the first quarter.
Johnson's energy was electric and, soon, he was joined by his squad, who responded by increasing the Panthers' point margin to 11 points, 25-14, on a pullup by Tyler Ennis (12 points) and an athletic basket by St. John's-commit Amir Garrett (15 points)
According to Newton's Third Law of Motion, for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction. And, in this case, Our Savior New American countered the mighty blow of Johnson and company with some pound-for-pound buckets of its own. Sparked by a jumper from OSNA's Nick Lewis (11 points), the squad surged on a 10-2 run that narrowed the margin to three points, 27-24, by the second quarter.
That three-point differential was maintained as the teams traded baskets. But, with about 3:20 remaining in the second phase, the Panthers were able to extend their advantage to six points, 36-30, on a basket by Zedric Sadler (eight points). OSNA's LeBrent Walker (18 points) put a stopper on the run with a bucket of his own, but Johnson was back at it for the Panthers, nailing a 3-pointer to up the team's margin to seven points, 39-32.
Our Savior New American's Felix Balamou (team-high 21 points) drew the foul and hit 2-of-2 from the line to cut the deficit to five points, 39-34. However, with Johnson still on fire, the Panthers were able to lead by as much as 12 points, 47-35, with about seven seconds remaining before halftime.
OSNA trailed by 10 points, 47-37, at the break.
While Walker and his Our Savior squad were trying to find ways to get some defensive stops to cut the deficit, the Panthers were doing just enough to maintain a four-possession game.
The intense, on-going battle between Christopher Obekpa (eight points) and Laimonas Chatkevicius (nine points) down low seemed to permeate through to the rest of the players' respective teammates as the physicality increased and the rivalry heated up on the floor.
Despite still trailing by 12 points, 51-39, early in the third quarter, OSNA was able to close the deficit to four points, 51-47, by the five-minute mark. Feeling the heat from OSNA breathing down their back, the Panthers tried to claw its way to a substantial advantage again.
But, this time, it did not happen.
Our Savior put in some serious work, doggedly fighting for a basket each time it could get its hands on the ball. With 1:03 left in the third, Obekpa sliced the Panthers lead to three points, 58-55. The Panthers could only increase its lead to five points, 62-57, before the close of the period.
Chatkevicius opened the fourth and final phase with a 2-of-2 performance from the charity stripe to push his team's advantage to seven points, 64-57. Soon, a pair from the stripe and a basket by the tough efforts of Walker tied the game at 64. And, on OSNA's next possession, Lewis was fouled and drained both free throws opportunities to give his team their first lead in nearly 25 minutes of game time, 65-64.
"He played hard," said OSNA coach C.J. Lipscombe of Walker. "He took a hard fall in the third quarter. He was hurting. He came back and tried to pull it off. He played hard."
Panthers' Sadler regained the lead, but Our Savior's Balamou snatched it right back. With OSNA leading by one point again - this time with the score being 67-66 - the Panthers decided to stage a 7-0 run. Capping the surge, Johnson completed the conventional three-point play to hold a six-point advantage, 73-67.
An OSNA turnover almost proved costly to the L.I. team, but the squad was able to regain its footing and come within four points. Despite Garrett elevating the Panthers by a deuce more, 75-69, at the 3:21 mark of the fourth quarter, OSNA hit a groove.
At about the 1:40 mark, Our Savior went on a string of offensives when Obekpa scored on a Hakeem Olajuwon-esque hook-shot, Balamou cashed in on a trey and Walker netted a bucket assisted by Balamou. The result - a one-point differential between the squads with the Panthers leading 77-76.
After a timeout was called and the Panthers were in possession, OSNA fouled Malik Nichols with four seconds left in the game. With pressure high, Nichols missed both opportunities.
Having one last possession with three seconds on the clock, Walker caught the ball on the inbounds pass, drove baseline and attempted a lay-up as time expired. However, a referee's whistle breathed life into Our Savior New American and sent Walker to the charity stripe in the double bonus and the OSNA fans to their feet.
Though Walker netted what would have been his first free throw attempt, Panthers' coach Ruddock called a timeout that went unnoticed by the referees. As the timeout was granted, the shot was waived.
"Freeze him," said Ruddock of what he was thinking when Walker was sent to the line for two. "I was trying to call a timeout as soon as he touched it. They didn't see me, so they stopped it. But I was trying to call timeout as soon as he touched it."
Walker returned to the free throw line and missed both opportunities, allowing the Panthers to escape with a one-point victory.
"In the right situation, the coach froze the kid. And it worked, it actually worked," said Lipscombe. "Even though the first one he made - they called it off. But the coach froze the kid."
"We played hard, we played really hard today. A lot of turnovers that we usually don't make, but we still stayed in the game," Lipscombe said of the loss. "Unfortunately, we couldn't win it, but it was a good game. It was a good game."