From a dreadful start and 10-point deficit midway into the second period, Susquehanna Valley’s boys recovered to post a 56-52 win Monday night over Owego and earn passage into Southern Tier Athletic Conference basketball playoffs.
Justin Caroway’s steal and conversion with 20 seconds remaining broke the game’s final tie, and Jason Fiorentino added two free throws to lock it up for SV in Game 2 of a three-way Central Division tiebreaker. The Sabers got past Johnson City in overtime Saturday.
David Matthews scored 16 points, Fiorentino 15 and Caleb Reynolds 12 — eight of those in a forceful five-minute, second-half segment — as SV (11-7) earned a semifinal start at Union-Endicott (13-3) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Brandon Hathaway’s nylon-singing from the perimeter brought him 23 points and Will Gladney added 15 despite a trying night getting the ball to drop from inside for Owego.
“This was a thriller, especially with what was on the line,” said Matthews, whose final points came on two free throws with 1:55 remaining to make it 52-52. Of the difference-maker, that which secured SV a third consecutive STAC playoff berth? “Our defense. We started to play outstanding defense.”
Let the record show that the Indians produced one field goal and six total points over the game’s final 4½ minutes.
“I believe we played 11 kids in the first half and they played seven, you could see a little bit of wear and tear on them,” Sabers coach Mark Ward said. “Brandon Hathaway, it didn’t matter how tired he was he seemed to keep finding it. But they stopped their movement, stopped doing some of the things they were doing well at the beginning, so I think fatigue had a little to do with that.”
Then again, it was SV playing a fourth game over five days, which perhaps factored into the batch of two-digit holes fallen into before halftime.
But persevere it did, and took its initial lead when Caroway accepted Matthews’ feed in transition and finished for a 36-35 SV edge 4:44 into the second half.
From there … Game On!
SV forward Reynolds completed his eight-point, second-half showing by turning Fiorentino’s penetrating pass into a goal for a 46-41 SV advantage 1:05 into the final quarter, and Owego was defended into a shot-clock violation on its next possession.
Two free throws from Gladney had the Indians within 46-43 with 5:07 to play, and after Caroway missed the front of a one-and-one, Hathaway dribbled into a 3-point goal from near the top of the arc — flushed while drifting to his right — and it was 46-46 with 4:36 remaining.
Fiorentino’s baseline jump shot for SV was answered by two free throws from Gladney, and Fiorentino came back with a move into the lane for a goal and 50-48 Sabers lead. Tyler Ford made one of two from the line for Owego, and with 2:44 to play, sharp ball movement freed up Hathaway for a 3-pointer from the top/right and it was a 52-50 lead for the hosts with 2:44 left.
Matthews’ tying free throws were reward for getting into the lane and drawing contact with 1:55 left. The teams played scoreless ball until Caroway intercepted a pass from high atop the perimeter and raced two-thirds of the surface for a layup that had his side ahead or keeps.
“I think because we defended and rebounded we kind of hung in there,” said Ward, whose SV squad surrendered the game’s first 12 points, and faced a 10-point gap with 3:40 to play in the first half.
“Four games in five days, we were fatigued,” he added. “I knew it would take a little bit. I was more upset about the defensive end, I wasn’t worried about the offense. The kids have worked so hard at getting better that I knew something would break.”
The Indians’ Hathaway was especially hot during a stretch bridging the second and third quarters.
His four second-quarter field goals were generated from the perimeter, last of which on a catch-and-release jump shot from the baseline to put his squad up by 28-18. In the opening moments of the second half, he struck on the interior and then returned to his comfort zone to set and fire a 3-pointer from atop the arc.
“I guess the four games in five days really hurt us because we came out pretty slow. We kind of had to get our legs back under us,” Matthews said.