Knights survive a scare
Kevin Anderson felt his lungs fill with anxiety as Zach Boyd released a desperation half-court buzzer-beater. The shot looked right on line and as it approached the basket, two long streaks looked like they might finally end.
But Boyd’s shot hit off the back end of the rim and the foul shot that Anderson made seconds earlier helped St. John Neumann survive its biggest scare yet. Anderson scored 32 points and hit the game-winning free throw with three seconds remaining as Neumann held off visiting Central Columbia, 45-44 Monday and won its 85th straight regular-season game. The Knights have not lost at the Terry Gramling Gym since 2012, but Central came as close as anyone to ending that streak, erasing a 12-point third-quarter deficit and tying it with 9.5 seconds remaining.
“It was a sigh of relief because it looked like it was going in from my point of view,” Anderson said. “When I saw it went up, I had a big deep breath and then I blew it out and just said, ‘thank you.'”
Neumann (18-0) has said the same about Anderson the past four seasons. That went double Monday night.
Anderson (10 rebounds, four steals) carried the Knights at times, especially in the fourth quarter when he scored all 12 of its points. He has been a brilliant facilitator all season and leads the area in assists, but Anderson simply took over repeatedly hitting key shots and getting to the foul line.
After Central scored five straight points and tied it on Zach Boyd’s NBA-range 3-pointer, Neumann called a timeout. Central (11-9) was doubling Anderson so he stepped across the baseline and caught a pass before whipping it back in bounds to Andrew Fish. Fish then threw back to Anderson who exploded up the right side and drew contact as he tried scoring on a layup.
The Delaware-bound senior missed the first free throw but made the most of his second chance and swished the second.
“When they made that big three I just thought this is what we need. We need to see that we can be beaten and that teams are going to come after us,” Anderson said. “So when I saw that I just said, ‘put the ball in my hands and I’ll win us the game.’ I was surprised when I missed that first shot. It’s a free throw. It’s just like practice. I don’t care how much time is left, it’s a free throw and I have to make it.”
Neumann survived a fiercely competitive challenger for the second time in five nights. Sullivan County trailed by just two late last Wednesday, but Neumann won 34-30. Muncy hung tough for a while Saturday and Central nearly handed the Knights their first regular-season loss since 2013.
The Knights continue finding ways to win and maybe these games will help them come playoff time. But Neumann sure would like to play better.
“It’s good for the kids to play under duress. You play all year and you’re blowing people out but you’re going to be under duress at some point so hopefully each game we get a little more confident,” Neumann coach Mike Kirby said. “It’s all about staying focused.”
“We’re playing not to lose. We’re not playing to win,” Anderson said. “The first half of the season we were playing to win, we were playing like we had something to prove. Now we’re playing like we’ve already proven something. They need to know that we have one of the biggest targets on our backs and that everyone is going to give us their best game.”
Central brilliantly executed its game plan, allowed just 15 first-half points than showed no fear after the Knights opened a 26-14 lead midway through the third quarter. The Blue Jays never deviated from their plan and cut it to nine entering the fourth.
A long Boyd 3-pointer really ignited the comeback, making it 44-39. Jaiden Lynch is one of the area’s premier defenders, but Boyd repeatedly hit big second-half shots, scoring 15 of his 19 points to give him 995 during his career. Griffin Aucker hit two foul shots that made it a 3-point game with 56 seconds left and, following a missed free throw, the Blue Jays had a chance at tying. The first shot was off the mark, but Matt Grozier grabbed the rebound and Boyd drained another big 3-pointer, this one seemingly closer to halfcourt than to the 3-point line.
“They really defended Zach well. That said, as the game wore on I have to give them credit for staying with our plan. It took a team effort to get him open and when we got him open and he got a little bit of room he got some good looks and made them,” Central coach Chris Snyder said. “I don’t know if he’s had a better game this year because Jaiden really guarded him and competed against him and if I was a fan that was really fun to watch.”
Central methodically went after Neumann’s defense. Neumann played excellent defense in the first half, but Central never rushed anything and trailed just 15-14 at halftime. Sparked by Dalton Gough’s assist to Lynch and Gough’s 3-pointer, Neumann scored the third-quarter’s first 11 points and took a 12-point lead.
But Central did not buckle. Griffin Aucker efficiently ran the offense and dealt seven assists, Boyd heated up and Dom Coombe kept making a big impact, finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds. The Blue Jays allowed just two fourth-quarter field goals and showed why they once again could be a tough out in the District 4 Class AAA field.
“I can’t believe how much guts our kids displayed tonight,” Snyder said. “That is a really good team and I have a lot of respect for how hard they made everything for us. That said, we made a lot of things hard for them. The next time we go out we now have in the back of our minds that we can compete with anybody we play. I hate that we lost, but we’re a better team for having played them tonight.”
Zach Boyd 4 8-8 19, Griffin Auker 1 3-3 5, Matt Grozier 2 0-0 5, Nick Brunozzi 0 0-0 0, Ky Seasholtz 1 0-0 2, Dom Coombe 5 1-2 13. Totals 13 12-13 44.
Kevin Anderson 10 8-12 32, Jaiden Lynch 4 0-0 8, Jaiden Cioffi 0 0-0 0, Andrew Fish 0 0-0 0, Anthony Marrazzo 1 0-0 2, Dalton Gough 1 0-0 3, Reid Parrish 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 8-12 45.
Central 4 10 10 20–44
Neumann 9 6 18 12–45
3-pointers: Central 6 (Boyd 3, Coombe 2, Grozier); Neumann 3 (Anderson 2, Gough).
Records: Neumann 18-0. Central 11-9.