SUMMIT, NJ - A poor start to their game versus Jonathan Dayton -- which saw the Summit High School Boys Varsity Basketball Team fall behind by as many as 13 points -- didn't doom the Hilltoppers, it just made the degree of difficulty much steeper than it needed to be.
The inauspicious opening eight minutes and resulting deficit was eventually overcome when freshman Eric Baier hit a three-ball 90 seconds into the fourth quarter, but there is a big difference between a comeback and a comeback win, and The Maroon & White was able to perform the former but not the latter.
Nick Ulizio's turnaround shot in the lane in the final minute -- two of his game-high 21 points -- ended up being the deciding bucket as Dayton defeated Summit 58-55. The Hilltoppers, led on the night by senior captain Will Schaffer's 19 points, had the ball in their hands twice in the final 30 seconds with the opportunity to tie or win the game but were unable to convert.
Sophomore Malcolm Sidebottom, with three 'treys', had 11 points as Summit climbed back into the contest. Senior captain Chip Roriston added 10.
The combination of a warm-bordering-on-hot Dayton squad and a mistake-prone Hilltopper team made for a very dodgy first quarter for Summit and the home fans, as the Bulldogs jumped out to leads of 5-0, 11-3 and 20-7.
The Hilltoppers began to match their energy output with much-improved execution, delivering an enhanced performance in the second quarter. Narrowing the Dayton lead to 28-19, Summit saw the visitor's advantage bumped up to 33-19 in the matter of a minute's time, but then responded with a 8-0 run of their own over the next 75 seconds and it was just a six-point Bulldog lead at 33-27.
The final two quarters saw each team make mini-runs and trade 'point punches', with Summit's first lead coming via the Baier basket behind the arc at 6:21 of the final frame, only to see Dayton answer right back. With the Bulldogs up 49-47, Schaffer followed his own miss from the charity stripe with a rebound and put-back, and it was knotted again at 49-49.
Next, a three-ball party broke out, with first Dayton, then Sidebottom, then Dayton again, then Sidebottom again connecting -- all of which kept the score level, this time at 55-55.
Ulizio's eight-footer put the Bulldogs up 57-55 with 35 seconds left, and Summit's final possession saw a Schaffer attempt from behind the arc partially blocked. Dayton added a free throw to cement the final margin of victory.
"We were not good early, but were much better in the final three quarters," said Summit Head Coach Dan Healy. "Dayton is a tough, resilient team that stayed at it the entire game, and hit some big shots down the stretch. We have to continue to work on our offensive rhythm and do a better job on the defensive end."
Summit, now 2-5 on the season, is back in action January 7, taking on Koinonia Academy at the Main Gym. Tip-off is set for 11:30 a.m.