Maine-Endwell built a seven-point lead with 90 seconds remaining and withstood ninth-ranked Johnson City’s rally to secure a 65-62 win and Section 4’s Class A boys basketball championship Sunday at Visions Veterans Memorial Arena.
Sophomore Preston Ocker – fittingly on this night – scored the final points with seven seconds remaining, and the Spartans denied JC on a three-point attempt just before time expired. The Wildcats had won nine in succession since absorbing a 16-point loss to M-E on Jan. 20.
“We’ve got a bunch of kids who would run their head through a wall if winning is on the other side of it,” said coach Bill Ocker, whose Spartans trailed by eight in the second quarter.
Preston Ocker scored 27 points with five three-point goals and teammate Austyn Nyschot scored 13 to lead Maine-Endwell. Junior guard Zubayr Griffin, cause for at least two NCAA Division I coaches’ attendance, scored 11 of his 26 points in the final quarter. Troeger Lombardini tacked on 14 and Felix Morales 12 for the 19-3 ’Cats.
Maine-Endwell played without senior forward Adam DeSantis as result of injuries he incurred in an automobile accident Friday night. He was present on the Spartans’ sideline but not in uniform.
Maine-Endwell (12-7) receives an opening-round bye then will oppose the Section 1 or Section 9 champion in a state quarterfinal, March 10 at The Arena.
Frantic final moments
Two points separated the teams before Ocker shot-faked his way into a clearing to bag a three from low on the right wing that put Maine-Endwell ahead by 60-55 with 2:51 to play. Next came a strong finish down the lane by Nyschot and there was that seven-point advantage.
But didn’t JC respond, with Griffin connecting for three from the right wing and Tameem Abdul ’Qahhar scooting better than half the floor for a layup after some sloppy ball handling up top led to a Spartans turnover – which they soon heard about from Coach.
Next, M-E failed on two tries from the line with 28.2 to play, JC turned over the ball with 19 seconds remaining and Luca Konrad hit the first of two free throws for a 63-60 Spartans lead – summarily clipped to a point when Griffin spun to the rim for a goal with 10.2 to play.
With no choice but to foul, JC sent Ocker to the line with seven seconds remaining and the birthday boy cooly nailed both. Griffin twirled into a three-point try from atop the arc, but no go and time expired in an intensely played title game.
Maine-Endwell played the closing 5:26 without big, versatile sophomore Luka Ioannisci, whose fifth foul was assessed for what officials determined to be an illegal screen.
“He’s been kind of the guy who’s carried us offensively the whole year and who has been a rim protecter,” coach Ocker said. “And without Adam in the game either, Noah Gray did a tremendous job around the basket, cleaning things up and being an obstacle down there. That’s a long time without Luka not in the game but the kids gutted it out.”
More from that tough soph guard
Preston Ocker established that he’d be a major factor in this one by scoring 10 points over the first 4½ minutes, squeezing off two successful three-pointers to go with two free throws and a drive for two from the left wing. Nevertheless, it was a 17-12 Johnson City advantage through a quarter, with Griffin’s four field goals – one part of a three-point play – the unsurprising catalyst.
It was a single-point difference at halftime with Ocker producing seven more points in the second quarter, and all-square through three periods with Ocker scoring or setting up his side’s last six points of the third.
** Johnson City entered the game ranked ninth by the New York State Sports Writers Association, but immediately tumbled to No. 25 – a spot back of Maine-Endwell.
** Coach Ocker’s message to the fellas in the late going: “We talked about our culture. I feel like our kids deserve to be champions, the way we comport ourselves, the way we go about our business every day. And I told them that games like these are won by tough-minded individuals – and I think we showed that we’ve got a bunch of them.”
** Coach Pop’s thoughts on claiming a championship with Young Ock playing such a prominent role: “It’s awesome. He’s been in pretty much every picture of every team that’s ever won, sitting in front of the group as a 3- or 4-year-old and now out here competing with his friends. Couldn’t ask for a better day.”
** As for defending Griffin, arguably Section 4’s finest offensive player: “He’s a phenomenal talent. We had a guy face-guarding him, a guy doubling him and a guy in the back waiting for him and he still kind of did his thing offensively. He’s just that good.”