Eli Thomas made many big, splashy plays for Elmira during the high school football season.
The one he made Wednesday night for the basketball team was not as splashy, but it was big as the Express survived 67-66 against Maine-Endwell in Southern Tier Athletic Conference action at Southside High.
Thomas, the Ernie Davis Award winner and a first-team Class AA all-state pick min footballo, hit a free throw with 5.2 seconds left for the decisive point.
Maine-Endwell was called for a carry and then fouled Trevon Hamilton with 2.1 seconds left. He missed both free throws, but the Spartans could not get the ball past midcourt for a final shot.
Elmira (5-5, 5-3 STAC) led most of the game and went up 66-62 with 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining on Hamilton’s driving basket.
Jake Sinicki, who finished with a game-high 20 points, pulled Maine-Endwell (6-4, 5-4 STAC) to within two with a short jumper at the 1:04 mark.
Tyler Moffe answered with a running floater for Elmira with 41.3 seconds to go, but he was called for a charge.
The Spartans tied the game on Kyle Gallagher’s conversion down low with 18 seconds on the clock. He finished with 14 points.
“Our intensity was a lot better (than in past games),” Elmira coach Ryan Johnson said. “We talked about control. We can’t control the officials, we can’t control the crowd, we can’t control Maine-Endwell. But we can control ourselves.”
The Express led for almost all of the first half except for an 8-0 Maine-Endwell run midway through the second quarter that turned a 22-15 Spartans deficit into a 23-22 lead.
The two teams played evenly the rest of the way.
The Express led 48-45 with one period to go. Sinicki kept Maine-Endwell in the game with 11 third-quarter points.
Alex Bellardini had eight of his 13 points for Elmira in the third.
The Spartans tied the game three times in the fourth quarter but never took the lead. Adam Gallagher scored six of his seven points in the final quarter.
Moffe led the Express with 16 points. Seven of those came in the second quarter. Hamilton finished with 11.
Both teams struggled from the foul line. Elmira went 10-of-22 and Maine-Endwell 9-of-21.
Johnson said he liked how his team looked in recent practices but thought maybe they did too much thinking.
“We may have been over-prepared. We may have focused too much on preparations,” he said.