Jan 21, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Poised in the face of pressure, patient in the presence of a great opponent trying to hurry things up, and resolute when things appeared to slip away, the Fayetteville-Manlius boys basketball team pulled off one of the biggest — and most exciting — victories in the program’s history.
The Hornets made two remarkable comebacks — one in the last seconds of regulation, the other in the dying seconds of overtime — on Saturday to stun Utica Proctor, 58-57, and hand the undefeated (12-0), state Class AA no. 9-ranked Raiders its first defeat of the season.
“This means a tremendous amount to our program,” said head coach Tom Blackford. “We did some dumb things at times, but we kept our composure.”
Senior point guard Ethan Gilbert agreed. “Proctor is the benchmark (in this league),” he said. “This win proves that we can play with everyone else, and it gives us a lot of confidene.
F-M had all kinds of heroes, from stalwart senior forward Patrick Lee (13 points, 13 rebounds), to fellow senior Brett Small, whose 22 points included the game-winning free throws with 6.1 seconds left in OT, to Gilbert, whose drive and basket with 12 seconds left in regulation tied it.
To set that up, though, the Hornets had to set the game’s tone. Blackford said that he told his team before the game that, if it could keep the score in the 40s or 50s and keep Proctor from picking up the tempo, F-M could win.
Perhaps it helped, too, that the Hornets had 15 extra days to prepare for the Raiders, since the original Jan. 5 date of the game was postponed due to threats offered against Proctor guard Mario Whiteshurst.
Whatever the circumstances, F-M played at its ideal pace throughout the first half, never letting Proctor run and utilizing a 1-3-1 look on defense to keep both guards and the Raiders’ junior forward, Deandre Preaster, occupied.
After F-M took a brief 24-22 lead in the third quarter, though, Proctor started to assert itself. Its full-court press led to turnovers and baskets, and the Raiders also hit a trio of 3-pointers, at one point building a 44-34 lead late in that period.
On the brink of getting blown out, the Hornets stormed back into it with an 11-3 run. It rattled Proctor so much that, midway through the fourth quarter, Preaster and Ronald Tarver nearly fought on the court before teammates separated them.
Despite all this, with a minute to play in regulation, F-M still trailed 51-46, and would need to be close to perfect to stay in it.
Lee began the first rally with a huge 3-pointer from the left side. After Proctor missed on the other end, F-M, out of time-outs, had to work on the fly as time wound down. Gilbert, seeing no one else open, drove to the goal.
“No one else really stepped up (to defend me), so I took it to the basket, threw it up, and hoped that it went in,” said Gilbert.
It did, and when Proctor (not calling a time-out to set up a play) couldn’t get off a clean shot before the buzzer, they went to overtime.
Again, the Raiders took the lead, bumping it to 57-54 on Rastafari Brown’s rebound basket with 39 seconds left. Again, the Hornets would come back.
With 20 seconds to play, Meril Tili hit two free throws (his only points of the game) to make it 57-56. Immediately, F-M fouled, and on the front end of a one-and-one, Wesley Jackson missed, and F-M rebounded.
Small, hot throughout the second half and OT, ended up with the ball, and was fouled as he drove to the net with 6.1 seconds showing. He said he felt no pressure at the line, despite the dramatic situation — and both shots were perfect.
Now up one, the Hornets had to make one more stand. Proctor got two shots in those final seconds, but they both went off the rim, and F-M had done it.
“It was a hard-fought game,” said Small. “We played well as a team, and we just happened to come out on top.”
Jackson led Proctor with 16 points, while Brown had 15 points, Preaster gained 14 points, and Tarver got 10 points.
What made this effort even more remarkable was the fact that, less than 24 hours earlier, the Hornets had waged a fierce battle at Liverpool and needed every bit of its effort to subdue the Warriors 37-31.
Both sides played superb defense all night, as F-M trudged its way to a 25-19 halftime lead, then overcame its own drought by holding Liverpool to a scant two points in the third quarter.
For the night, Small had 12 points, including a trio of 3-pointers, while Alex Mueller gained nine points and Lee added eight points. Liverpool hit just nine field goals all night.
At 11-4 on the season after the Proctor upset, F-M gets another chance at a high-profile win at home when Henninger (14-1, no. 10 in the state AA rankings) shows up Friday night.