NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The Pioneers trailed by as many as 11 points in the final quarter of their North Jersey 2, Group 1 quarterfinal against No. 9 University.
However, a slew of missed free throws by the Phoenix, coupled with timely shooting from New Providence, saw the double-digit deficit dwindle to only six with 90 seconds to play.
In the final minute and a half, Pioneer senior Dylan Thomas, who was marred by foul trouble throughout the game and held scoreless up until this point, took the team on his back for the last surge.
Thomas scored seven of New Providence’s final nine points, including a 3-pointer with 5.3 seconds to play to pull within a basket. However, as was the trend all night, Phoenix forward Kyle Wright had other plans. The senior sank two free throws with four seconds to play to seal University’s, 56-53, victory over top-seeded New Providence.
“We were right there with them,” head coach Art Cattano said. “We had a great first half after being down early. Our kids kept their poise. It was probably one of the best games we’ve played all year. A couple of breaks here or there and we wind up winning. I’m glad we competed with them.”
New Providence was down 11 before they could even blink in the game, as Wright scored six points in the first 3 minutes of the game. However, once he picked up his second foul with about 4 minutes to play in the first quarter, the game swung to the Pioneers’ favor.
Trailing 16-5 midway through the first, the Pioneers exploded for an 11-2 run to close the quarter with Wright on the bench.
Seniors Kevin Haggerty and Matt Romeo, as well as junior Kevin Vass each hit a 3-pointer to pull New Providence within two after one.
When Wright remained on the bench for the entire second quarter, New Providence’s command continued. Senior Bryan Joyce took advantage of the extra space without Wright on the floor and scored seven points in the period to lead the Pioneers into the locker room with a 29-25 lead.
“We were just moving the ball well,” Joyce said. “We were taking care of the ball, getting good shots, rebounding. That was really it. It didn’t really matter who was in there, we just did a good job.”
Despite the momentum New Providence had going into the locker room, University took it back quicker than it came in the third.
With Wright back on the floor, the pace of the game changed. Areas on the floor opened with the increased focus on Wright, which led to three straight 3-pointers from University’s Zamir Wright that took back the game.
New Providence was held to just six points in the quarter, a corner three from Joyce and three free throws from Sean Cole, yet still found themselves trailing by just four heading into the fourth quarter.
In the final period, University built back their double-digit lead on three baskets and 11 free throws, but the Pioneers erased the deficit on the backs of the seniors. Joyce, Haggerty and Thomas all hit shots to give New Providence a shot at an almost impossible comeback.
“We don’t panic,” Cattano said. “We got close, if a couple of shots went our way. They could have ended up blowing us out again, but they never did. Like I said, a little break here or there down the end could have made a difference…I’m very proud of the kids.”
University’s Zamir Wright led all scorers with 22 points. Joyce led the way for New Providence with 17 points, while Haggerty added 10 of his own in their final high school game.