Once again, the prospect of a Section III boys basketball Class A semifinal between Jamesville-DeWitt and Bishop Grimes is in play, but before either of them even took the court, East Syracuse Minoa stole the spotlight in the most dramatic way possible.
Kevin Richardson’s last-second 3-pointer helped the no. 9 seed Spartans upend no. 8 seed Carthage 79-76 in Friday’s opening round, giving the Spartans a chance to challenge top seed Utica-Notre Dame in the quarterfinal round.
Neither the long road trip north, nor the post-season pressure, seemed to bother ESM as it steadily built a double-digit lead, eventually going up 59-48 by the end of the third quarter.
That margin was still there when, with less than three minutes left, Carthage roared back, hitting a string of big baskets as the Spartans seemed to fall apart.
Yet even when Jaden Kennedy’s deep 3-pointer found the net to tie it, 76-76, with 20 seconds left, ESM still had time to save matters. Not using a time-out, the Spartans gave it to point guard Devin Muscato-Buffaloe, who tried several drives to the basket, only to get stopped.
Ultimately, Muscato-Buffaloe passed it to Richardson, who from the right side shot from beyond the arc and drained it just before the horn sounded.
For the night, Richardson had 18 points, with Muscato-Buffaloe adding 14 points as Colton Cwikla had 16 points and Emir Karic got 12 points. Kennedy poured in 26 points to lead the Comets.
All of this followed a reveal of the sectional bracket where J-D got the no. 2 seed and Grimes the no. 6 seed in a nine-team bracket, with byes straight into t he quarterfinals.
Should the Red Rams knock off Cortland and the no.6 seed Cobras prevail at PSLA-Fowler, those two sides would reunite Friday night at SRC Arena, one year after Buddy Boeheim’s late dramatics pushed J-D past Grimes in overtime on the way to a sectional title and a state final four berth.
ESM already had a post-season berth locked up, taking away the stress from last Monday’s regular-season finale against Solvay.
But the Spartans still had a successful Senior Night, prevailing 67-48 as it kept the Bearcats from clinching a playoff spot, outscoring them 35-19 in the second and third periods after the two sides played through a 16-16 first quarter.
Gabe Holloman poured in 20 points as fellow seniors Kevin Richardson and Colton Cwikla also had big showings, Richardson getting 13 points and Cwikla adding 12 points. Jack Shields had seven points as Dennis Benjack and Emir Karic had six points apiece.
As that went on, Grimes hosted Bishop Ludden last Monday night and attempting to avenge a 47-41 defeat from Jan. 25. The rematch would go into overtime, but the Cobras lost again, falling to the Gaelic Knights 70-63.
It was the last regular-season game for Ludden head coach Pat Donnelly, who is retiring at season’s end. That it was at Grimes was fitting because Donnelly and Grimes coach Bob McKenney were once teammates at Potsdam State.
Their last encounter proved a close one, Grimes leading most of the first half, but seeing its slight edge vanish when the Gaelic Knights held them to 10 points in the third quarter.
Fighting back, the Cobras got it to overtime at 55-55 its efforts led by T.J. Bradford, who led all scorer with 26 points, nearly half his team’s output.
But Ludden took control in the four-minute extra period as Jai Smith gathered 20 rebounds to go with his 16 points and Joe Connor had 19 points, plus 12 rebounds. Nic Button added 14 points.
The problem for Grimes was that no one else got close to Bradford’s production as David Mo, who had 33 points against Syracuse Academy of Science in his last outing Feb. 8, got held to six points here.