CALDWELL - The Mater Dei Prep boys basketball game faced its first of many significant tests over the course of this season Sunday at Caldwell University and the Hoop Group Tip-off Showcase.

It took surviving a shaky final minute and a controversial call, but the Seraphs walked off the floor celebrating a win over a top-10 team in the state.

Senior Yasin Pretlow hit a floater as time expired to give Mater Dei Prep - the No. 2 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and No. 10 team in the state according to NJ.com - a trilling, 56-55 win Sunday over St. Mary of Elizabeth, the No. 9 team in the state, at the Hoop Group Tip-Off Showcase at Caldwell University.

Pretlow finished with a game-high 21 points along with five rebounds to lead Mater Dei and earn Most Valuable Player honors for the game.

Mater Dei senior Yasin Pretlow hit the game-winning floater Sunday against St. Mary's of Elizabeth. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We were all ecstatic after getting a win like that," Pretlow said. "We were happy to get the win over a top-10 team in the state. That's a big win for us right there."

St. Mary went on a 6-0 run to turn a 54-49 deficit with 50 seconds left into a 55-54 lead with 3.8 to go following two clutch, go-ahead free throws by 6-4 senior Jay’von Jackson.

After a timeout, Pretlow inbounded the ball to senior teammate Kenny Jones and took off up the middle of the floor. Jones sprinted the ball into the front court up the right sideline, passed it up to Pretlow, who, in one motion, caught the ball and floated it up and in from the free-throw line.

"I wanted our guards to circle out because they were so aggressive," said Mater Dei Prep coach Ben Gamble, who called timeout after Jackson's two free throws gave the Hilltoppers the lead. "I wanted Kenny to come back and when he got it, he just busted it and kept his head up. That's how he was able to get the ball to Yasin and as soon as it touched his hand, he let it go."

"Kenny came to the ball hard," Pretlow said, recounting the final play. "As a good guard, I know he's coming back to the ball and I know they are going to trap him, so I went behind him and just sprinted. He got the ball to half court, I got the pass, made the shot, and it all went from there."

St. Mary contended the shot came after the final horn had sounded and replay obtained by Shore Sports Network shows the ball in Pretlow’s hand as the light on the basket structure lit up. The officials, however, counted the shot and the Seraphs mobbed Pretlow in celebration.

"It's not for me to say whether it was after (the buzzer) or before," Gamble said. "But I like it."

"I believed I got it off," Pretlow said of his game-winner. "At first, I was second-guessing. I shot it, I made it and I was still calm when it went it. I turn around, I saw the ref throw his hand saying it counted and I said, 'Yeah. That's right.'"

Jones finished with 14 points and senior Kyle Cardaci pitched in 11 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Senior center Adam Afifi battled against the Hilltoppers frontline before fouling out with eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. St. Mary features 6-8 senior Casmir Ochiaka and 6-9 senior Calistus Anyichie. Casmir is committed to Loyala, while Ochiaka is committed to Binghamton.

"Afifi is 6-9 with a high GPA, he's got his scores and I've been telling coaches - he's only 17 years old," Gamble said of Afifi. "He just played with some toughness, right there. He had to get his practices in, because he went to Egypt, and so that was his first live game action and it was against a Division I kid."

Mater Dei outscored St. Mary's 12-3 over the first 4:07 of the fourth quarter to take a 51-43 lead, matching the Seraphs' largest of the game. They led 54-49 after Pretlow hit one of two foul shots with 50 seconds left.

The Hilltoppers, however, had one last push and it nearly was enough to pull out the win. Jackson scored off a feed by junior Papie Roberts with 35.6 left to cut the Mater Dei lead to 54-41. Pretlow then missed a layup after Mater Dei broke the press and Roberts earned a trip to the free-throw line, where he hit a pair of foul shots to cut the Seraphs lead to one with 16.3 seconds left.

Junior Alexander Rice, who finished with two points, seven rebounds and three assists, missed the front end of a one-and-one and Jackson earned a trip to the free-throw line with 3.8 seconds. Afifi blocked Jackson's shot, but was whistled for his fifth foul.

Mater Dei owned a decided edge in free-throw percentage over the course of the game, but the final minute saw a reversal of fortune from the stripe. St. Mary started 1-for-11 from the line and finished 13-for-27, but hit its last four in the final 16 seconds. Mater Dei, meanwhile, went 10-for-13 for the game but went 1-for-4 over the final two-plus minutes.

Foul trouble hampered Mater Dei during the final four minutes of the third quarter, with both Pretlow and Afifi going to the bench with three fouls. With Afifi on the bench, St. Mary went on a 16-5 run to turn a 32-24 deficit into a 40-37 lead.

Jones keyed Mater Dei's 14-3 run to give them the 51-43 lead by scoring six points and assisting a basket by Cardaci during the run. Afifi hit jumpers on consecutive possessions to push the lead to six points and Jones finished in transition off a pass from Pretlow to cap the run.

Mater Dei survived foul trouble, an inexperienced bench and a shaky final minute to pick up a win over a state-ranked opponent. The Seraphs are still waiting on 6-6 sophomore Jamir Watkins to become eligible after he transferred from Trenton Catholic. Watkins will be eligible on Jan. 14.

"We still have a lot of work to do, but this is a great even to have a finish like that against a top-ten team," Gamble said. "They have a great program over there. I'm feeling pretty good right now. I'm feeling like it's February."

 

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