YONKERS – Between a go-ahead layup in the dying seconds, followed by a near-decision by the refs to call a technical on the crowd for storming the court, then followed up with a last-second foul to put the trailing team at the line for three free throws, there was plenty of drama in Saturday’s Class AA quarterfinal between Saunders and Ossining.
In the end, the game went to overtime, and fourth-seeded Saunders pulled out a gritty, if at times ugly, 54-48 win over fifth-seeded Ossining to punch its ticket to the County Center for the second straight year.
“When it went to overtime, I looked at my bench and told them they were winning this game,” said Saunders head coach Anthony Nicodemo, who also got his 100th career win. “I felt confident winning the game in overtime, more comfortable than during the last three minutes.”
With the score tied at 41-41 with 17.2 second left in the fourth quarter, Nicodemo designed a play for Anthony Miller. The senior guard dribbled left and got a screen from teammate Nick Nolan, giving him just enough room to hit a tough pull-up jumper with 2.2 seconds left to make it 43-41.
“My coach said I would probably get the shot,” Miller said. “I got a good screen, when the ball left my hand, I knew it was going to go in.”
However, the Saunders bench and some members of the crowd ran onto the court after the made shot. The officials nearly called a technical foul, but opted not to after a long discussion.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Felder knocked the long pass down, but Nolan fouled Ossining’s Kahseem Trotter as he was taking a desperation heave with 0.1 seconds left to send him to the line for three shots.
For Saunders, it was a similar situation in an early-season game against Spring Valley, when Nolan fouled a Spring Valley shooter at the last second to give up what would be the game-winning free throws.
“After that happened, we understood what to do,” Saunders senior Nico Potiris said. “We worked in practice, we worked on that play. We do situational drills and we came up with (the win) this time.”
Thankfully for the Blue Devils, the situation did not play out like in the Spring Valley game.
The way Trotter’s free throws played out instead: Hit. Timeout Saunders. Miss. Hit.
Saunders, which came into the game as the consensus favorite, struggled to score against Ossining’s 3-2 zone defense to start. By halftime, the Pride led 20-14.
“We were playing timid, we were afraid of the zone at first,” Saunders senior Derrick Felder said. “Once we realized that this was do or die, we had to go. Everybody started attacking the zone, which opened it up for everybody else.”
Saunders used a 6-0 run midway through the third quarter, capped by a steal and lay-in by Sean Bresnan, to take its first lead of the game, 23-22, at the 4:11 mark.
With the score tied at 29-29 at the start of the fourth quarter, Ossining went on a quick 8-0 run, thanks to a 3-pointer and lay-in from Jay Criss followed by a 3-pointer from Obie Toppin, to take a 37-29 lead with 6:11 left, the largest lead of the game for the Pride.
“The whole coaching staff, the whole community, is so proud of these boys,” Ossining head coach Mike Casey said. “Everybody counted them out, but we knew we could compete with anyone, and the outcome is just very tough.”
Saunders will play top-seeded Mount Vernon in the semifinals at the County Center on Friday at 6:45 p.m.
Player of the game: Derrick Felder, Saunders. With the team down on the scoreboard, the Concordia commit didn’t give up. He willed his way to a game-high 25 points.
Turning point: After Ossining’s early run in the fourth quarter, Saunders was running out of time to make a run of its own. The Blue Devils got a layup from Felder with 5:17 left, and then Miller converted an and-one play, followed by a drive. With 49.6 seconds left, Felder hit a put-back to tie the score.
Stat line: Miller had nine points, all of them coming in the fourth quarter and OT. … Bresnan, a sophomore, chipped in with eight points. … Nolan hit a 3-pointer in the OT, the only one Saunders hit all game, to give the team a 50-46 lead. … Toppin finished with a team-high 12 points for Ossining. … AJ Stokeley and Alan Griffin both chipped in with 11 points for the Pride.
Quotable: “I’m very proud of my teammates; we took a hard punch from Ossining, they are very good team and they gave us a good surprise, but we answered back to them,” Felder said. “Who doesn’t want to play Mount Vernon? They are the best team. We want to play them.”