Maine-Endwell secured its first lead of the second half when Kyle Gallagher’s airborne put-back with 2.4 seconds remaining brought the final points of a 61-59 basketball victory over Binghamton.
Gallagher scored nine of his 16-point total in the closing nine minutes of play Friday night after the Spartans had dropped behind by 10 and appeared bound for season-opening disappointment.
Instead, the bigger team played big — at long last — and got the nod in Game 1 of what figures to be a Patriots-Spartans trilogy worth every bit the three-admission price tag.
Jake Sinicki (6-foot-5) scored 17 points and Chris Heimes (6-7) matched the 16 from 6-5 Gallagher. Each of the trio stands two inches clear of Binghamton’s tallest individual, though the Pats’ scrap out-did M-E’s size much of the way, absolutely through a first half that provided considerable fodder for Spartans coach Bill Ocker’s halftime monologue.
The decisive closing sequence began with M-E inbounding from the sideline just above the 3-point arc. The game clock showed 12.4 seconds to play, but more critically the shot clock displayed :07.
The ball was distributed prudently to Gallagher on the left wing, but he was defended into a fall-away mid-range misfire. Sinicki burst down the lane and soared to get a hand on the miss, but when his attempt was off the mark Gallagher closed the deal after wisely and assertively following his miss.
Binghamton (1-1) had a better-than-expected final crack at the win, but K.J. Rose’s 3-point try from high on the perimeter caromed off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
Jamie Curtis, a 5-11 senior who demonstrated zero regard for the size of M-E’s defensive obstacles, turned in an exceptional 21-point effort. Rose and Seth West tacked on 12 apiece for the Pats.
Gallagher’s take on the decisive sequence: “As I went up, I knew the shot wasn’t going in. I saw Jake come out of nowhere down the middle, he was up there. He tipped it, then the ball was in the air, I just jumped and put it in.”
And M-E coach Bill Ocker’s: “Kyle got the ball off, Jake looked like he was going to jump over the basket, got his hand on the ball, and then in the frenzy, Kyle came up with it and stuck it back in. Seemed like that play took 10 minutes to unfold.”
This one was gripping from start to fantastic finish.
Binghamton accounted for the final five field goals of the opening quarter to take a 19-12 lead. Three of them were by Curtis — on a penetration down the lane, off a feed from Andre Yevchinecz and courtesy of crafty jump-entry from Rose following a bang-bang exchange of turnovers.
M-E’s last lead until the game-ending bucket was supplied by the second of back-to-back goals by Alec Wisniewski in the closing minute of the second quarter. But the Pats responded with a 3-pointer from Rose and, just ahead of the halftime buzzer, a soft loft in the lane by Curtis for a 32-28 Binghamton advantage.
“They made shots, some contested and some not as contested as we would have liked, but we felt like that would stop at some point,” Ocker said of the first half. “But if they were offensively rebounding the ones they missed, then we didn’t have a chance.”
Binghamton’s seventh 3-point goal of the night was supplied by West from the corner and made it a 52-42 lead with 74 seconds remaining in the third quarter. That prompted a Spartans timeout.
“We have a lot of football and soccer players on our team, so that experience going that far (in the respective postseasons) kind of carried over,” Gallagher said. “We were calm at that point, down 10, we knew we could still come back.”
Heimes scored M-E’s first two final-quarter goals, and Gallagher the next two — though Gallagher squandered a chance to put his team ahead by missing a pair from the line to leave it 56-55 Patriots midway through the quarter.
The last two-possession margin, 59-55, came when Yevchinecz converted on a baseline move with 3:13 to play.
Sinicki cut it to 59-57 on a strong surge down the lane with 1:47 left, and Heimes buried two free throws — employing a no-nonsense, ultra-confident stroke — with 1:33 to play.
Rose spun his way into the lane for an attempt that misfired with 40 seconds to play, and M-E worked the ball high on the perimeter to the :12.4 mark before calling timeout.
“The mental part of the game that Stephen Eggleston brought was really the difference in getting us over the hump,” Ocker said of his senior guard. “The attitude he brought to the floor really was the difference, in my mind.”