SUMMIT, NJ - The depth of the margins that determine the difference between winning and losing are in direct proportion to the quality of one's opponent.
When competing against the 'lesser lights', a solid effort will usually get the job done but, when pitted against an elite foe, the performance must be stellar and -- even then -- the victor will be the side that claims the majority of the contest's key moments which, when combined, simmer to form a stew-like turning point.
So, when the Summit High School Boys Varsity Basketball Team, enjoying a very strong campaign that saw them start the day with 11 wins already under their belts, took the Main Gym court against Scotch Plains-Fanwood, owners of 12 wins and one of a handful of current occupants in the 'next level' of area prep basketball -- a subset of squads the Hilltoppers aspire to join -- every play, small to supersize, would be magnified.
What ensued was a thoroughly compelling and entertaining 36 minutes of basketball with a result that could not be decided in regulation time. Summit, given the opposition, likely played its best game of the year and validated that it belongs on the 'up side' of the high school basketball escalator while the Raiders ultimately showed their pedigree and poise, even if it took pretty much all 36 of the 36 minutes to do it.
Despite leading in the game's final minute, Summit was caught, pushed to overtime, and then saw two attempts within the final five seconds of the extra session fall short, falling 59-57 to SF-F. Junior captain Dom Yorio, who had one of those final looks, led the Hilltoppers with 14 points. Jack Brady scored a game-high 21 and Ryan Muench added 18 points to pace the Raiders.
Like one of the headline acts at a Basketballapalooza event, Summit took stage as the third in act in the annual "Hilltopper Pink Out," a day of hoops that benefits the Connie Dwyer Breast Cancer Foundation. That dynamic created a somewhat funky 12 p.m. tip time, something which Summit Head Coach Dan Healy may want to make de rigueur moving forward, given the way the Maroon and White played the first quarter.
Dialed in from the get-go, the Hilltoppers were feaster, sharper and executed with conviction at both ends of the floor. The resulting 18-10 lead at the end of one was more than deserved, and the Main Gym was buzzing, amplified by the fact that the quarter's exclamation point came via a 25-foot three-ball from junior captain Jackson Tyler that found nothing but twine at the horn.
The tale of the second quarter was one of Good News / Bad News from a Hilltopper Nation perspective. The Good News was that Summit scored early and late in the frame. The Bad News was that -- for the nearly six and a-half minutes in-between -- they didn't score at all.
During the barren segment, Summit possessions were either limited to one shot or ended by a turnover and, methodically, SP-F chipped away at the deficit and then finally took the lead. Muench hit one of his five threes on the day as part of 12-0 Raider run and soon the SP-F was ahead, 22-20. The Hilltoppers put the offensive plug back in the outlet late-on and, even though they didn't score their second points of the quarter until their was 1:07 left before the half, they ended leading at the break, 25-24.
A back and forth third quarter drew to a close with a trey from junior captain Finbar McCormick and Summit led 41-37 heading to the fourth, an eight-minute stretch that was dramatic for the entirety of its 480 seconds.
Junior captain Malcolm Sidebottom hit a three and Summit led 49-45 with four and a-half minutes left and, after a pair of buckets from Yorio, the Hilltoppers had upped their lead to five, at 53-48, with 1:49 to go. Then the aforementioned fine margins really kicked in, and they ended up kicking a dent in what was looking like a seasonal signature win for the home team.
An SP-F hoop made it 53-50, and Summit was fouled on the subsequent possession. One of two free throws made it 54-50 and then Brady drained a three-ball to turn Summit's five-point lead to a one-point lead at 54-53.
The charity stripe, as it turned out, was not so benevolent to Summit, as three more missed free throws out of four attempts left the Hilltoppers with a 55-53 lead, which was wiped out with 12 seconds remaining when the Raiders' Lamont Cruse slashed to the basket and scored.
Sidebottom's contested 17-footer at the horn hit the back of the iron and came out, and the teams were headed to overtime.
There, a three from Muench -- fitting in that he seemed to connect at key moments all afternoon -- and a lone free throw from Cruse were enough to top Summit's offensive yield of two free throws, which were accompanied by two more errant attempts. The Hilltoppers did have two looks inside the final 10 seconds to tie -- Yorio from 10-feet and sophomore Will Hellings off a final inbounds scramble, neither of which would drop.
"I thought we played really well all game today, but that is not good enough when you are facing a great team," said Healy, adding that his team, while having done well to date, are "still in the process" of learning, growing and getting to the next level.
Summit, now 11-3 on the season, will next face Governor Livingston February 1 at the Main Gym. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.