Boys Basketball – Wall Falls in Overtime to End Historic Season
BRICK TWP. - One year ago, Wall boys basketball coach Bob Klatt stood on the sidelines of the Brick Memorial gymnasium waiting for his team to make the one play that would spark a comeback.
Klatt ended up waiting up until the start of this season because that one play never came. When he led his Crimson Knights back to Brick Memorial for Wednesday's Group III semifinal against Timber Creek, his team - a year older and a year better - made those plays.
Unfortunately, Timber Creek made one more play.
Senior Eric Benjamin converted a go-ahead three-point play with 23.8 seconds in overtime and Timber Creek survived a fourth-quarter rally by Wall and a back-and-forth overtime period to win, 60-57, to advance to the Group III championship game.
"Everybody told us all year that we were going to get back to where we were last year and it's just not that easy," Klatt said. "These kids have never been in that situation. Wall basketball has always been chasing people and this year, we were the hunted and these kids responded better than I ever expected. Somebody is going to give you their best every single night and we answered the call just about every time."
Wall trailed, 44-34, with four minutes to go and embarked on an 11-1 run to tie the game at 45 with 1:42 left in the fourth. The two teams traded scores for the remainder of regulation, with senior Michael Caputo scoring off a pass from Colin Ackerman to tie the game at 47 and junior Pat Lacey hitting two game-tying free throws with 8.5 seconds left.
"Something just sparks these kids," Klatt said. "They are never out of it. They just need one play to kind of light the fuse and they are ready to go. They just don't quit - that's the biggest thing with these guys."
Wall took its first lead since early in the second quarter on Lacey's jumper to open the overtime period and make it 51-49. Senior Justin Bladen responded with a go-ahead three-pointer before Wall senior Quinn Calabrese came back with a three as he was fouled to make it 54-52.
Calabrese missed his free throw and Lacey made one of two from the line to push the lead to 55-52, but Benjamin swing back with a game-tying three from the left corner.
Once again, Wall answered with Ackerman slipping a pass to Caputo for a go-ahead layup with 35 seconds left, putting Wall one or two stops away from reaching its first Group III final.
Caputo nearly made the defensive play of the game by sliding into position in front of a driving Benjamin, but the call went against the Wall senior. Lacey got the call on his drive to the basket to tie the game with 8.5 seconds left in regulation and Benjamin was afforded the same luxury, with his shot also dropping in the process.
Wall still had a chance to win the game with a basket and given that the Crimson Knights scored at least one point on 11 of their previous 12 possessions, their chances seemed promising.
Lacey got the first shot at a go-ahead jumper, but missed long. Junior Logan Peters corralled the rebound as he was falling to the floor and kicked the ball out to Ackerman. The sophomore drove toward the basket and kicked it to the top of the key, where Calabrese got a clean look. Wall's leading scorer was on line with his shot but it came up just short and Timber Creek 6-foot-6 senior Demetrius Paynter grabbed the rebound.
"We weren't going to call timeout, we moved the ball, we weren't going to let them set up anything," Klatt said. "We had two good looks with Pat and Quinn and they just didn't fall. I thought he had a charge on the other end but we didn't get the call. What are yoy going to do?"
Paynter hit a pair of free throws with one second left on the clock and Bladen picked off a long inbound heave by Peters to seal the game.
Lacey led Wall's fourth-quarter comeback with 13 of his game-high 21 points in the final eight minutes of regulation. Calabrese threw in 13 points and Caputo added 10.
Wall had several key plays to spark its comeback, most notably an extended possession that included a missed shot a floater by Lacey and two missed front-ends of 1-and-1's by Peters. That cut the deficit to 45-41 and Peters forced a turnover on the next possession with a diving steal and swatted the ball off a Timber Creek player.
"Logan making that diving play to steal the ball, that just gets us going," Klatt said. "It's just one play that gets us going. These kids don't quit, which is why it was tough in that locker room after the game."
Wednesday marked Wall's second comeback to force overtime in a span of three days. The Crimson Knights erased a five-point deficit in the final 40 seconds of regulation in Monday's sectional-final win over Neptune. It was also the second time in three days in which Timber Creek struggled to protect a double-digit lead, with the Chargers watching a 20-point, third-quarter lead against Cherry Hill West dwindle to three Monday with a minute to go.
Wall's hustle and determination to finish the comeback were undeniable but its free-throw shooting compared to that of Timber Creek proved a critical difference. Wall shot 4-for-9 from the line for the game while the Chargers went a near-perfect 16-for-17.
After losing to Moorestown, 64-44, in last year's Group III semifinal, the Crimson Knights had the unenviable task of having to follow a historic season while managing even higher preseason expectations - both internally and externally. With more teams gunning for them, the Knights finished 24-7, won the Class B North division with a perfect 14-0 divisional record, went 14-0 at home and won a second straight Central Jersey Group III title as a No. 1 seed.
The only difference was this time around, Wall responded to adversity in the Group III final and its response was nearly enough to push the team through to the next round. Instead, Wall will head home with back-to-back sectional champions, a different type of season-ending loss to digest and three key players - Lacey, Ackerman, Peters and junior Tom Palluzzi - lined up to return next season.
"We were so young last year and we were never in this situation, so when a bad call went against us or we made a bad play, we pouted about it," Klatt said. "We kind of changed the mentality this year to where their mature enough to move on and make the next play. That was our motto all year: make the next play."
Wall will bid farewell to 1,000-point scorer in Calabrese, plus an athletic starting forward in Caputo. The Crimson Knights also lose Ian Ackerman - who came off the bench for five rebounds, three assists and some solid defense on Paynter - as well as senior contributors Nick De La Cruz and Brad Mahoney.
"It's going to be tough replacing this senior class," Klatt said. "These kids just worked hard."
Timber Creek 60, Wall 57 (OT)
Wall (57): Colin Ackerman 3 0-0 7, Pat Lacey 8 3-4 21, Logan Peters 3 0-2 6, Michael Caputo 5 0-0 10, Quinn Calabrese 4 1-3 13, Tom Palluzzi 0 0-0 0, Ian Ackerman 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 4-9 57
Three-pointers: Ackerman, Lacey 2, Calabrese 4
Timber Creek (60): Jalen Bergen 0 3-4 3, Eric Benjamin 4 3-3 13, Demetrius Paynter 7 6-6 20, Austin Green 4 2-2 10, Justin Bladen 2 2-2 7, Kolby Miller 3 0-0 7, Tarheeb Still 0 0-0 0, Shaun Thompson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 16-17 60
Three-pointers: Benjamin 2, Bladen, Miller