Trailing by 9 points with 2:50 left in the third quarter, Salesianum was running out of options Tuesday night.
The Sals switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense, which they pushed out into a half-court trap. It was a move they hadn’t used often this season, and coach Brendan Haley wasn’t sure what would happen.
It worked so well, it saved Salesianum’s season.
The Sals found some magic, scoring more points in the fourth quarter than they had in the first three quarters on the way to a 51-43 victory over Newark in the quarterfinals of the DIAA Boys Basketball State Tournament.
A capacity crowd at St. Mark’s roared on every play as fourth-seeded Salesianum (19-3) advanced to a semifinal matchup against top-seeded Sanford at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Bob Carpenter Center. Newark, the 12th seed, had a 10-game winning streak snapped and finished its season at 17-6.
“Definitely, the 1-3-1 changed everything,” Haley said. “It’s not something we work on probably as much as we should. The kids deserve the credit, because that’s not something we practice a ton.
“We worked on it at the walkthrough today after school,” he added. “Frankly, if it came down to that, I wouldn’t have thought it would make the difference.”
It did. The Yellowjackets beat the 1-3-1 the first couple of times, with point guard Marquis Clarke penetrating and dishing to Xavier Purnell for layups. Jahsun Greer hit two free throws to keep Newark up 35-29 with 5:40 left.
But that’s when it all went wrong for the Yellowjackets. The Sals forced four straight turnovers, and Newark missed a layup and a 3-point attempt. Salesianum wasn’t missing on the other end.
Nick Perugino hit a driving layup, and Chris Pepe popped in a fast-break layup and two free throws to tie it at 35 with 3:36 to go.