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.