Behind a Jalen Adams halfcourt, bank-shot as the buzzer sounded,Cushing Academy electrified the crowd at Endicott College on Sunday afternoon with a thrilling 61-60 win over eighth-seeded St. Andrewâ€™s (RI) School.
The shot not only crowned the Penguins 2013 NEPSAC Class AA champs, but it also gave the school its first boys basketball title since 1996 and earned Adams â€” who had missed the last three regular season games and first postseason contest against Brimmer & May School â€” tournament MVP honors.
The Shot: Trailing by two points, second-seeded Cushing made a huge defensive stop with 3.3 seconds remaining to give themselves one final chance. But the daunting task of scoring from three-quarters court still lay ahead.
Following a Penguinsâ€™ timeout, junior guard Idris Taqqeefloated a pass over the outstretched arms of a St. Andrewâ€™s defender and into the hands of Adams. After a few dribbles with his right hand to advance the ball past halfcourt, Adams vaulted himself into the air while simultaneously lofting a high-arcing, two-handed desperation shot towards the basket that miraculously found its way off-glass and into the hoop.
The sophomore guard and Roxbury, MA-native spoke post-game about his mindset as the play developed and the emotions that overwhelmed him in its immediate aftermath.
Adams effectiveness wasnâ€™t solely limited to the gameâ€™s final seconds. The combo guard had Cushingâ€™s first four points and finished with a team-high 14 points. He also helped spark a late run along with 6-foot-7 senior forward Andrew Chrabascz (13 points) that brought the Saintsâ€™ double-digit lead down to a single possession with less than a minute remaining.
In Adamsâ€™ return to the starting lineup after a five-game absence â€” it was obvious from the outset until the final buzzer sounded â€” he was the difference maker for Cushing.
Countryâ€™s Best Backcourt: Â Junior point guard and Nashua, NH-native Kaleb Josephâ€” who together with Adams form what many observers have labeled the nations premier high school guard tandem â€” was noticeably shocked following his running mates game winning heave.
Joseph only had 10 points against St. Andrewâ€™s, but perhaps his greatest contributions to the gameâ€™s outcome were by way of his leadership and stabilizing presence. When Butler signee Chrabascz picked up his fourth foul with a little more than 10 minutes to play and the Penguins trailing, it was Joseph who urged his teammates on.
Behind a dominant opening stretch to the second half by power forward Bonzie Colson(14 points) and guard Henry Bolton (11 points), St. Andrewâ€™s rebounded from a 33-28 halftime deficit to build a three-point lead (44-41) with just under 10 minutes remaining. The run also swung the momentum in the Saintsâ€™ favor.
But Joseph was visibly unfazed as he verbally encouraged his teammates to keep plugging.
Fight to Finish: Following convincing 28 and 10 point wins in its first two postseason games, the pesky Saints presented Cushing with its biggest test.
With Chrabascz back in the game with 7:30 remaining despite having four fouls â€” a decision Cushing coach Barry Connors explained in his below post-game interview â€” the Penguins first saw their deficit swell to 55-44 with just under 4:30 left, before they started to chip away. They simply never panicked and as a result closed the game on a 17-5 tear.
Learning to Believe:Â During the season, Cushing suffered one-, two- and three-point losses to the likes of Kimball Union Academy, Marianapolis Preparatory School and Phillips Exeter Academy, before they finally captured their first victory in an equally tight game (two-points) over Worcester Academy on Feb. 20. In that game, the Penguins scored the decisive basket in the final 10 seconds. The win would propel Cushing to a season-ending six-game win streak â€” a stretch in which it played some of its most inspired basketball.
The Penguinsâ€™ first close win of the year also undoubtedly gave them the confidence and resolve necessary to pull out a win in the fashion that it did against St. Andrewâ€™s.