WHITE PLAINS – The game, and the season for that matter, was on the free throw line for Jeff Blair with 34.5 seconds left with his team down by one to Irvington in the Class B semifinals at the County Center.
The senior forward calmly sank both free throws to give the Bears the lead, and they held off Irvington’s offense in the final seconds to grind out an ugly, but hard-fought 33-32 win.
“All the work from all year came down to those two free throws, and I knew that if I didn’t hit those, then we would be going home,” Blair said. “I had no doubt making those two free throws.”
Both teams played tight defensively and gave few open looks. The teams combined to shoot only 24.4 percent from the floor, and only 48.4 percent from the free-throw line.
After trailing 9-2, Briarcliff began to claw its way back slowly. The Bears trailed 23-21 at the half, and took their first lead late in the third quarter with a layup by junior forward Josiah Combs.
“One thing going that we talked about was that (Irvington) has experience; they were here last year,” Briarcliff coach Cody Moffett said. “We settled down, and from there it was a grind.”
Only three more field goals were made by the two teams in the fourth quarter. Overall, Briarcliff forced Irvington into 23 turnovers.
“Their guards were denying me the ball the whole time,” Irvington senior guard Andrew Brennan, who finished with nine points, seven rebounds and three assists, said. “They were prepared and I can’t take away anything from them.”
Briarcliff was led by sophomore guard Jack Reish, who came off the bench to put up 13 points, six rebounds and four steals. Junior center Sean Crowley had 12 rebounds and three blocks and senior guard Malik White had nine points, all in the first quarter.
For Irvington, Kevin Tierney had 10 points and 11 rebounds, while Thomas Wassmann had seven points.
“It was a defensive game, both teams played great defense,” Reish said. “We just pressured the ball hard.”
Briarcliff will play Woodlands, the top seed, in the final Saturday at 5 p.m.
“We’re just looking for revenge,” Reish said. “And the gold ball.”