CHATHAM, NJ - Robert Raiola's 3-pointer dropped through with 1.3 seconds left and gave Chatham its biggest victory of the season, setting off an emotional celebration that put the senior guard on the floor beneath a pile of teammates.
The 3-pointer, his second of the fourth quarter, handed Chatham a 49-46 victory over Mendham on Friday night.
Joe Lamberto's two clutch foul shots with six seconds left had tied the score at 46-46 for Mendham (8-3) before Raiola found the ball in his hands and no time outs left for Chatham (8-3).
"My original thought was to go to the basket, but nobody really picked me up," Raiola said, "and with only six seconds to go, I thought I might as well take it. We shoot every day in practice. I might not have shot that well in the beginning of the year, but everyone on the team, from the coaches to the players tell me to keep shooting and now they're falling."
It was the second time in five days in which Raiola nailed big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. On Monday, Raiola sparked a 20-0 run in the fourth quarter with two 3-pointers that helped Chatham score a victory over Hackettstown. Raiola's only points on Friday were two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Raiola talks about his winning shot in video below
"Robert Raiola, what can you say, amazing shot," said Luke Conrad, who led all scorers with 26 points. "This might have been the best basketball game I've been a part of."
Conrad made Raiola's shot possible with a brilliant overall game, which included 26 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two assists.
Mendham held a 41-36 lead when the Cougars reeled off nine straight points. Conrad drove to the basket for two points to ignite the burst before Colin McKenna spun to hit a turnaround jumper. Conrad then dropped in a 3-pointer from the right corner that gave Chatham its first lead since early in the first quarter.
Graham Delaney then made a full-out dive to the floor to grab a loose ball and called time out with 1:45 left. That preceded Conrad's drive down the lane that staked the Cougars to a 45-41 lead with 1:29 to go.
"It's a rival game against Mendham every time," Raiola said. "We know whoever they have, they're going to play tough defense and play physical. In the first half we were getting bodied up and I think the press helped to wear them down in the second half and we started scoring points. Luke (Conrad) took over in the second half. He played great today. He hit the big 3-pointer from the corner to give us the lead and we took it from there."
But Mendham wasn't done yet. Alex Jacobs, who finished with 19 points, pulled up and hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key that cut it to 45-44 with 1:07 left. McKenna made one foul shot with 16.2 seconds left before Lamberto made his foul shots to knot it at 46.
"We were down pretty much the whole game, we just kept scrapping and fighting," Conrad said. "Even when Jacobs made a nice three at the end, we were able to keep our heads together and pull it out. Great team effort. I really loved the way we finished. Definitely a team effort."
Conrad talks about big finish by Chatham below in video
It was a game Chatham easily could have lost, missing 13 free throws, including the front end of three one-and-one opportunities.
"We haven't shot free throws well," Chatham coach Todd Ervin said. "We certainly didn't play great. We made a lot of mistakes, but, you know what, we fought the entire game. No one gave up and they played hard the entire game. It goes to show you, good things happen when you work hard."
NOTES: Chatham shot just 45.8 percent from the foul line, sinking 11 of 24 attempts, while Mendham made 17 of 23 free throws (73.9 percent). ... Mendham's only basket from the field in the fourth quarter was the 3-pointer by Alex Jacobs with 1:07 left.
Drive to the basket by Luke Conrad in video below
Conrad drains 3-pointer for Chatham in video below