SUMMIT, NJ - 'Bottom's up.
Junior captain Malcolm Sidebottom is enjoying a very strong season, leading the Summit High School Boys Varsity Basketball Team in scoring, hitting big shots -- especially from beyond the arc -- and serving as a key piece of the puzzle that is the Maroon and White's resurgent season.
He is a sharpshooter with a flair for the dramatic, and the smart money would be on the hunch that he will likely hit an even bigger shot, in a even more important moment -- a playoff game, perhaps -- at some point over the course of his remaining time at the Kent Place Boulevard campus.
But, until he does, the 25-foot rainbow he hit from the left side of the Main Gym court at the final horn versus AL Johnson will do nicely, thank you.
The massive splash of the twine -- the shot looked perfect from the moment the orb left his hands -- and the buzzer that simultaneously greeted the ripping rope together served as a synchronicitous, Pavlovian signal for every card-carrying member of Hilltopper Nation who was sitting on a bench -- players, coaches and fans -- to storm the floor and celebrate Summit's heart stopping 77-76 victory over the Crusaders.
The game itself was as dynamic as its finish, with two really good teams playing very well for virtually the entire 32 minutes. While, like most doppelgangers, the two teams aren't identical in every way, the similarities between the squads -- affinity for an up-tempo pace, rapid offensive ball movement and passing, the ability to flat-out shoot the rock, and hard-nosed defense -- make them near-mirror images of each other.
And, like two brothers from the same family, the teams went at it and at each other with intensity.
Behind six points each from sophomore Eric Baier and Sidebottom along with a slew of transition points, Summit led 18-10 at the end of one. The duo delivered 11 more total points in the second stanza, but Johnson was heating up and dropped 21 points over the eight-minute span. The teams went to the locker room with the Hilltoppers leading, 36-31.
At times during the third quarter, the game took on the basketball equivalency of a vintage Three Stooges slapstick slap fight. The teams combined for 10 successful Three-Balls in the frame -- many of the exchanges coming via back-to-back possessions -- six coming from Johnson on 10 attempts while the Hilltoppers went four-for-four from distance. The quarter ended with Johnson scoring 25 points and taking a 56-55 lead.
Summit opened the fourth on a 7-0 run to take a 62-56 lead.The Crusaders clawed back, mainly behind soon-to-be-2,000-points-in-a-career scoring machine George Visconti, who ended the contest with a game-high 30.
The Hilltoppers led by one, at 68-67, with three minutes and change remaining, and by three -- at 70-67 -- with a shade over two minutes to go. After Johnson tied the score at 70, Baier drove to the basket and made an acrobatic, leaning layup that gave the home team a 72-70 lead, but team in blue took the lead back with a three-point play directly off a Summit turnover. Two missed Crusader free throws in the final 90 seconds, however, left them clinging to a two-point lead with less than ten seconds to go.
After inbounding the ball under their own basket, Summit had to go 94-feet quickly, and It looked like the Hilltoppers were going to have to go right to the final play, but Head Coach Dan Healy called time-out with 2.7 seconds on the clock.
The ball came into junior captain Finbar McCormick on the right side of the top of the key. Moving to his left, he found his classmate and fellow captain Sidebottom wheeling off a screen. The catch and shoot play, with a Crusader defender's leaping out to block or alter the attempt, took about 2.4 seconds but it worked to perfection, and bedlam ensued.
Sidebottom finished with 25 points that included eight made treys via 80 percent shooting from Three Point Land. Baier netted a career-high 21 and junior captain Dom Yorio added 14 for the Hilltoppers, now 15-3 on the season.
Brendan Kelly had 19 points to compliment Visconti's 30 for Johnson.
"I thought our guys were incredible today," said Healy. "ALJ gave us tremendous pressure and prevented us from running a lot of our offense. We had to create and make plays with the ball. The kids Visconti and Kelly are almost impossible to stop."
Summit received the number-10 seed in the Union County Tournament and will face 15th seeded Governor Livingston February 10 in a first-round tilt at the Main Gym. Tip-off is set for 3:30 p.m.