WAYNE – Holding an eight-point lead with the ball with under two minutes to play in regulation, it appeared the Paterson Kennedy boys basketball team was zeroing in on its first Passaic County title in seven years.
But a stunning, 8-0 spurt by second seeded Wayne Hills forced overtime, and the Patriots held off the Knights in overtime to score their first county title.
Wayne Hills came all the way back to take a 55-51 overtime victory over Kennedy in the 48th Passaic County Tournament final at Wayne Valley on Saturday afternoon. The top-seeded Knights, stunned in the final moments, finished their regular season with a 19-6 record entering state tournament play.
“We’ve played (Wayne Hills) three times since I took over, and every one of those games went to overtime. We knew what we were in for,” said Kennedy coach Tommie Patterson. “A few bonehead plays with the lead, they hit a few big shots on the other end. They deserved their win and there is no shame in losing to them.”
Trailing 36-33 entering the fourth quarter, Kennedy got back in front with a quick 7-1 run to move ahead by three with six minutes to play. In that span, Knights point guard Jaylen Colon followed a floater with a left-wing three ball to give JFK their second lead of the game.
Colon scored 12 of his team-high 18 points in the fourth, as a pair of swishes from behind the arc and a steal-and-layup sequence put Kennedy up 47-39 at the 2:36 mark. Two free throws by Wayne Hills’ Joey Belli were answered by a Jaylen Hargrove finish on the other end of the floor to put the Paterson squad back up eight with 1:56 to go.
But from there, the aptly named Justin Wills’ single-handedly sparked Hills. He followed a right-corner three with a steal on the other end of the floor, and then drained another triple from the right side to make it 49-47 with 1:15 to go.
Kennedy would miss a lay-up on the ensuing possession, and the Patriots would tie it on two Joey Belli free throws with 34 seconds to play. Hargrove’s short-range floater on the baseline drew front rim, and the packed house at Valley was in for overtime.
In the extra session, Kennedy took a 51-50 lead on an acrobatic put back from Avant’e Gilbert, but five consecutive points by Wayne Hils’ Joe Cerone, including a lay-in with 10 seconds left, sealed the stunning victory.
The opening three quarters saw the game played within an eight-point window, as Kennedy never led and Wayne Hills’ advantage never ran higher than eight.
A driving lay-up with the left hand from Colon at the 1:42 marker in the second quarter allowed Kennedy to even things up, 20-all at the half.
Another put back from Gilbert moved Kennedy ahead 33-31 late in the third, but two charity tosses by Joey Belli was followed by a left wing three by Wills to move Wayne Hills up 36-33 after three.
It’s a quick turnaround for the Knights, as they launch state tournament play on Tuesday at home vs. Clifton.
“No one is going to feel sorry for us,” said Patterson. “Everyone else is going to open up on Monday or Tuesday, too. We have to get it together.”