After fighting an uphill climb throughout Saturday’s state semifinal, Union-Endicott found itself in the waning moments with a chance to continue its improbable state title dream.
But, alas, the postseason magic finally ran out for the Tigers.
U-E guard Osama Barwari missed two free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining, allowing Section 6 foe Jamestown to hold on for a 64-63 victory in a thrilling Class AA boys basketball contest at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Zack Panebianco scored a game-high 31 points for the Red Raiders (19-4), who led for all but about 90 seconds and were up 63-58 following Zacc Kinsey’s layup with 35 seconds remaining.
U-E (17-5) wasn’t quite done, however, giving itself a chance to prevail over the wild final 30 seconds.
C.J. Krowiak made one of two free throws with 23.3 seconds left to bring U-E within 63-59. Then, after Panebianco missed a pair of free throws with 22.5 seconds to go, Barwari scored on a layup in transition to cut Jamestown’s lead to 63-61 with 15.3 seconds remaining.
U-E’s full-court pressure forced an immediate turnover, and Barwari scored on a layup in traffic with 11 seconds left to knot the score.
The tie was short-lived, though, as Krowiak fouled Panebianco in the backcourt with 9.9 seconds left, fouling out in the process after a magnificent 30-point outing. Panebianco made the first free throw but missed the second, giving U-E a chance at the win.
Bringing the ball up quickly after Panebianco’s miss, U-E got it to Barwari, who drove to the basket and was fouled with 2.2 seconds left, nearly getting the basket as the ball just hit off the back iron.
Barwari missed long on the first free throw. After a Jamestown timeout, Barwari’s second free throw missed short and right, and Jamestown came up with the loose ball as time expired.
“We’re not in this game if it wasn’t for Osama,” U-E coach Joe Alger said. “He single-handedly last week (in a 69-66 overtime victory over Mount Vernon) took over the game at points, and he got us to this point.”
“I told him ‘I love him, I care about him.’ He has plenty of basketball in his future, and he has nothing to be ashamed of.”
To blame Barwari for Saturday’s loss would be to unjustly ignore what he did over the previous 31:58 of game time.
Barwari scored 17 points, he and Krowiak shouldering much of the offensive load — like they did when they combined for 48 points in the stunning state quarterfinal victory over then-No. 2 ranked Mount Vernon last Saturday — on a day when U-E’s outside shooting was ice cold.
The Tigers were 0-for-13 from 3-point range. In addition, their trademark pressure defense was unable to force the usual amount of turnovers.
Much of that credit goes to Panebianco, a 5-foot-10 junior point guard who may look more like a football player but can certainly do his thing with the round ball.
He masterfully operated Jamestown’s offense, and down the stretch came up with key baskets, including a big 3-pointer from 22 feet away at the top of the key with 2:40 remaining to push the Red Raiders’ lead to 59-54.
“In postseason play you can’t turn the ball over and expect to win, and I think we did a good job with that,” Jamestown coach Ben Drake said. “Zach, he’s always in control, he’s just very solid with the ball. In the fourth quarter especially, we needed to get the ball in his hands and let him operate.”
U-E took a 2-0 lead on Barwari’s floater 18 seconds in. Panebianco answered with a 3-pointer about a minute late to put Jamestown ahead, 3-2.
Jamestown led nearly the entirety of the contest after that, several times pushing its lead to 10, the last of those double-digit leads coming via Kinsey’s fast-break layup with 6:38 to go in the third quarter that made it 34-24.
U-E came back with seven straight points. Krowiak had a three-point play, Barwari a basket off a baseline drive and Krowiak two free throws in a span of less than a minute to cut Jamestown’s lead to 34-31. The Jamestown lead would remain between 4-8 points pretty much the rest of the way.
“We battled all game long,” Alger said. “(Jamestown) made some runs, they got up double-digits a couple of times, but for us to continue to fight, we showed a lot of resiliency.
“We fell a little short … we could have played better defense early on and knock down some shots. We struggled there but you can’t question their heart and effort.”
Miles Hemphill added 10 points for U-E. Jamestown’s other double-digit scorer was forward Quinn Lee Yaw, who had 15 points but only four in the second half.