SUMMIT, NJ - In a 40-minutes-of-hoops, real-time illustration of just how thin the margin of error is on the upper rungs of New Jersey prep basketball, the Summit High School Varsity Basketball team got career-high point totals from not one, but two players, part of a group effort that led Head Coach Dan Healy to say his squad "all played like heroes."
And they still lost.
Going toe-to-toe with Union County foe Rahway at the Main Gym, the Hilltoppers competed like mad and played a very good game against a very, very good opponent, but could not put away the Indians who showed -- over the course of the game, but especially in key moments -- what they were made of as the visitors persevered to prevail, 67-63 in double-overtime.
Junior captain Malcolm Sidebottom had 29 and sophomore Joe Lusardi had 14 -- as did his classmate Eric Baier -- to lead Summit. Sidebottom and Lusardi's career highs were somewhat neutralized by Zion Pendleton's 24 and the fact that four of his Rahway teammates had at least six points.
While, from a Hilltopper Nation perspective, a better result could easily be found, a better game likely could not. Summit nursed a single-digit lead for the three-plus quarters, but the hardwood truth was that neither team was 'in control', which created a fascinating level of basketball tension.
The Maroon and White led 9-7 after the opening eight minutes and 20-17 at the half. Rahway's viper-like quickness and their overall athleticism on defense was stifling Summit, but the home team was intensely 'returning 'the favor', flummoxing the Indians.
The tug-of-war continued during and through the third quarter, with the Hilltoppers pushing their lead out to 28-24 heading to the fourth. There Rahway -- specifically Pendleton -- became Rahway and Pendleton, as the Indians blitzed Summit for the next four minutes of hoops, a stretch in which the Hilltoppers hurt themselves with a series of turnovers. Soon enough, Rahway led 38-31 after a 14-3 run, and Summit was on the ropes.
But a home team clawback was in the offing, as driving baskets by Sidebottom and Baier were part of a push that narrowed the Rahway lead to just a point, at 40-39. After a steal, Sidebottom slashed down the middle and finished to give Summit the lead, 41-40, with 1:39 to go. Bedlam temporarily ensued, but Pendleton made one of two free throws to tie the score, but Baier took a great pass from a driving Lusardi to put the Hilltoppers back ahead 43-41, only to see Rahway equalize with 30 seconds left in regulation.
After a time-out with 8.2 seconds left, Sidebottom got a great look just as the horn sounded, but his three-ball rattled in and out and the teams were headed to overtime.
The extra session looked the the beginning of the fourth quarter, with the Indians bolting out on a 8-0 run to lead 51-43. Game over, right? Not so fast.
Enter a Baier three-ball, followed by two Sidebottom charity stripers, two missed Rahway free throws, and a lunging, whoop-dee-doo underhanded scoop lay-up from Sidebottom and and it was 51-50 Indians with 25 seconds left.
Pendleton made two free throws after being intentionally fouled before Sidebottom made a 30-foot three from the second 'M' in S-U-M-M-I-T that is painted on the floor just adjacent to his own team's bench. There were less than five seconds left, and even Rahway couldn't go 94-feet, so a second OT was at hand.
In the second extra session -- and with the crowd still buzzing from the Sidebottom moon shot -- Summit again fell behind, this time 58-53 however, there would not be another miracle-adjacent comeback, Pendleton took his team on his back and made all the plays he needed to make when he needed to make them. The Hilltoppers, now 17-5 on the season, fought to the final horn but ran out of time.
Summit -- seeded third -- will open play in the NJSIAA North 2, Group 3 Tournament February 26 versus 14th-seeded Warren Hills at the Main Gym, Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.