PATERSON, NJ - Eastside High School’s Joshua Cash brought the Passaic County Tournament semi-final to an end Saturday with not only the biggest shot of his career but undoubtedly one of the greatest of his institution’s legendary sports history.
Playing on their home court before a capacity crowd, the Ghosts forged ahead against the Paterson Charter School of Science and Technology, 56-55, with six seconds left in regulation play. However, the Lions were awarded two free throws following a foul in the act of shooting.
The first offering found nothing but net to knot the score. Before the second was attempted, Eastside Head Coach Marquis Webb whistled a time out further elevating the pressure. The strategy worked as the shot bounced off the rim and the outlet pass of the subsequent rebound went into the hands of Cash.
In a play that has already been forever memorialized on YouTube, the senior guard wheeled up-court along the left sideline. Narrowly escaping a defender, Cash crossed the mid-court line at full throttle and took one last dribble. The desperation 40-foot prayer banked in at a 45-degree angle as the buzzer sounded.
The Eastside bench, as well jubilant fans, reacted with shock and awe as the three-point miracle resulted in the final 59-56 victory and Cash being mobbed at half court.
The first two quarters featured a conundrum of momentum with the Ghosts racing to an early 9-0 lead. Highlights of the scoring spree included a 15-foot jumper and a nifty, reverse lay-up, both by Eastside junior guard Levi Holton. Following Charter’s first two points of the contest, Lions’ senior guard Sadiki Miller, while dribbling, was hounded by Holton and stepped on the mid-court line for a turnover. The latter’s teammate, O’shamire Majette, then snatched an offensive rebound for a put back off the glass. However, an authoritative shot rejection by Charter’s Zahire Robinson seemed to rouse the Lions.
Following an Eastside travelling violation, Miller knocked down a jumper from the free throw line for the Lions’ floor general Marquis Harris then drove into the paint and dished off to fellow senior Caleb Ruffin who banked in a runner off the glass. Miller then provided an encore with a spectacular driving left handed lay-up. Only a three-pointer from beyond the key by Holton temporarily quelled the offensive uprising.
Following a furious rumble under the boards, Ruffin managed to come away with a rebound, was fouled while shooting, and notched a pair of charity stripe offerings. Despite two consecutive pick-pockets by Miller, Cash was able to escape trouble at half court and cruise in for a left-handed lay-up for Eastside. A pair of free throws concluded first quarter action with the Ghosts leading by a score of 16-8.
The second frame was inaugurated by a resounding shot block by the Lions’ Michael Ferguson. The junior forward then rocker-stepped from the left wing and bolted in for an off-the-glass lay-in. Led by Miller, full court pressure by the Lions began to again rattle the Eastside guards, one result of which was an offensive rebound and score by Charter junior Marlon Harris. Ruffin then found himself all alone at the high post and wheeled into the lane for an easy two. Not to be outdone, the Lions’ Ferguson added two more points from the paint.
The Ghosts managed to hold onto their, by now, slim lead courtesy of a cherry-pick fast break score by Holton which caught Charter’s defense napping. An Eastside ball handler committed a turnover by stepping on his own baseline but, to the delight of orange and blue fans, the Lions returned the favor by lofting up an air ball.
As the second half neared conclusion and physical contact escalated, Charter junior Jahar Pierce and Eastside’s Holton both cashed in on free throw opportunities. A combined steal by Pierce and Lions’ junior Jamir Belfield led to a resounding, tomahawk dunk by Ferguson which nearly brought the house down. The relentless comeback resulted in Charter capturing a 27-21 lead. Holton managed to stop the bleeding by dropping in two free throws to salvage a half-ending, six-point deficit for the Ghosts, 29-23.
The third frame opened with a smooth 20-foot jumper by Holton. After a trick pass attempt went awry for the Lions, Holton converted, again, this time on a left handed lay-up. However, soon thereafter, Ferguson answered with a nice turn around banker in the lane. Eastside sophomore Shakur Muckle then dropped in a cherry-pick, fast break banker, the Lions following with a score underneath by Robinson and a surprise stop-and-pop 15-foot jumper by Harris who pulled up after leading a fast break.
P.C.S.S.T. finished the quarter’s scoring with a short range score resulting in a 46-36 Lions’ lead.
The final frame saw baskets by Ruffin and Ferguson countered by a Holton steal and score. However, the tenacious Eastside half-court trap began to take its toll and consecutive steals led to scores. As crowd volume intensified, the Ghosts garnered a 50-49 lead with 3:29 left on the clock.
The final, nail-biting moments began with Charter solving Eastside’s full court press yet being tagged with an offensive foul for throwing an elbow. Cash then provided a premonition of his last second heroics with a scintillating left-handed, 10-foot running bank shot. Court colleague Belfield followed by turning in a spectacular spin move only to be trumped by a pair of blocks on attempted dunks, one each by both squads.
After the dust had settled, the Ghosts held their breath with a 56-51 lead and 1:32 on the game clock. However, seconds later, Ruffin snared a clutch offensive rebound for the LIons, scored, was fouled, and calmly sank the resulting free throw. Several wild journeys up and down the court by both squads yielded no fruit.
A steal and score by Miller cut the Ghosts’ tenuous lead to one, 56-55, with 33 seconds left.
The Lions’ hounding full court press then provided one more opportunity from the free throw line with the aforementioned scant, six seconds remaining.
Enter Joshua Cash and the ESPN worthy highlight reel as the contest and final outcome truly proved to be one for the record books.
Paterson Charter concluded a remarkable season with promise to be a formidable foe for years to come.
The Ghosts advanced to the Passaic County title game to be played at Wayne Hills High School against cross town rival Kennedy on Saturday, February 29, at 12:00 p.m.
Know a story we should share with readers? Email editor Steve Lenox and tell him about it.