UTICA — Rome Free Academy’s boys basketball team came into Wednesday night’s Tri Valley League Colonial Division game determined to avenge an early-season 16-point defeat to Notre Dame.
In the fourth quarter it appeared as if the Black Knights would roll to a double-digit victory. However, the Jugglers rallied in a frenzied fourth quarter to force overtime. And then once again, rallied to force double overtime.
That’s where RFA’s defense came up big as the Black Knights closed out the game with a 7-0 run for a thrilling 97-93 victory at Michael J. Walsh Gym that kept them atop the league standings.
Damien Call had 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to lead RFA (6-1, 13-3) to its seventh straight victory. The Black Knights also got huge contributions from Andrew Recco (16), Camron Williams (15) and Anthony Cudhea (14). RFA point guard Jeremiah Bartholomew also had 10 points, including two big free throws in the second overtime, to go along with seven assists and Zach Wilbert had six points and 13 rebounds for the victors.
“It’s a really big win for us,” Call said. “They’re a great team and our competitors. They are at the top of the league with us and Whitesboro, so it was a really big game for us. “We lost to them by 16 last time and wanted to get our revenge, come back and get the ‘W’.”
Notre Dame’s dynamic trio of Treijen Garret, Jaylen Warmack and Derek Lindsay combined to net 76 points for the Jugglers, who fell to 3-3 in the league and 10-5 overall.
“We never give up,” Notre Dame senior Derek Lindsay said. “We always have a chance, we are getting ready for sectionals now and we have to get the next ones. We are that type of team and we’ll make a run … we’ll be there in the end.”
It was a back-and-forth battle with Notre Dame holding a 35-34 advantage at the break. Sparked by eight points, including two 3-pointers by Cudhea, the Black Knights seemingly took control by outscoring the Jugglers 26-16 in the third to grab a nine-point advantage heading to the fourth.
The Black Knights quickly extended its advantage to 13 on a conventional three-point play by Call and then a top-of-the-key 3-pointer by Williams to claim a 66-53 lead with under six minutes to play.
“We missed some open shots and Rome capitalizes on those long misses, “Notre Dame head coach Ryan Goux said. They get out in transition and they can build quick leads. I thought our team fought hard today and I’m proud of them.”
Still, it was 76-65 with under two minutes remaining and RFA appeared to be in complete control before a quick flurry by the Jugglers.
Fueled by Warmack, Garrett and Lindsay, the Jugglers kept coming. Warmack, who consistently got to the free throw line, scored 12 in the quarter, while Garrett (9) and Lindsay (7) helped Notre Dame steadily shave into RFA’s lead.
After a driving bucket by Lindsay, Garrett hit a wing 3-pointer and two free throws to cut the advantage to 76-72 with 1:17 left. Williams extended RFA’s advantage to six with a nice drive and hoop, but poor free throw shooting kept the Jugglers in the game and a long 3-pointer by Lindsay from the top of the key cut the advantage to 78-75 with 42.5 remaining.
After RFA missed another one-and-one opportunity, Warmack made two free throws to cut the advantage to one with 32.9 left. Williams hit one of two free throws to give the Black Knights a two-point advantage, but Warmack’s putback with 9.1 seconds left closed out the 14-3 quarter-ending run that forced overtime.
“We missed three straight one-and-ones and then they came down and hit some threes and some big free throws and it went to overtime,” RFA head coach Nick Medicis said breaking down how his team lost the big lead. “Then we did the same thing again in the first overtime. We were up four and missed two free throws and they came back again to tie it.”
In the first overtime, Patrick Espinosa’s baseline 3-pointer gave the Jugglers a short-lived 82-81 edge, but six straight points by the Jugglers pushed their advantage to 87-82 with a minute left.
Espinosa, who was cold from the perimeter in regulation, then hit a nice floater to cut he lead to three before Call found Recco for a layin to make it 89-84 RFA with 40 seconds left. Recco had six points in the first overtime and 13 rebounds for the game.
But the Jugglers refused to wilt and Matt Quinn cut the lead to two with a long 3-pointer for his only points of the game. Once again, RFA missed two critical free throws to set up Garrett’s game-tying lay-in off a nice feed from Warmack with just 4.9 left to force a second overtime.
In a reversal or roles, it was Notre Dame that grabbed the quick advantage in the second overtime as Lindsay hit two free throws and Garrett, who last week eclipsed the 1,000-point milestone, drove to the hoop to help his team gain a 93-90 lead midway through the second, four-minute overtime.
Call, who earlier in the game rose for a huge two-handed dunk, hit his biggest shot of the game by drilling a baseline 3-pointer to knot the game with 1:45 remaining.
“We didn’t get too tired,” Call said. “We’re conditioned for this, because our game is to play fast and go up and down the court. The overtimes were tough. We were up so much and then we were down … but we just had to trust and keep faith in each other.”
With the game knotted inside the final minute, Williams made the defensive play of the game, forcing a steal and then driving to the bucket for a lay-in that gave the Black Knights the lead for good with 35 seconds remaining.
“I knew my shot wasn’t falling and chose to play defense,” Williams said. “Our defense at the end is what ultimately got us the ‘W’. Once we got that one crucial stop I knew we would win. It’s a huge rivalry game and huge confidence boost for our team coming off the loss to them the last time.”
Notre Dame had several chances to either take the lead or knot the game before and after RFA missed two more free throws. However, after Warmack’s driving attempt rolled slowly off the rim, Bartholomew grabbed the rebound and calmly iced the game for good with two free throws with 5.4 remaining.
“We talk all the time about facing adversity and when things don’t go your way you have to step up and make plays and I thought we constantly made play after play. This was a great game. It was like a sectional game, no doubt about it. A couple of plays here and there … wow what a game. Has this league been more fun than this year? … Every game is a tough game in this league.”
Wilbert also had 13 rebounds for the Black Knights, who are off until next Friday when they’ll play at Carthage.
Like RFA, the Jugglers also made things difficult for themselves with poor foul shooting. Notre Dame shot just 16-for-30 from the stripe.
“In that kind of game we missed some open shots, but I can handle the physical mistakes. But as a coach one of the things that hurt us is we missed a bunch of free throws and left a lot at the line, especially in the first half,” Goux said. “Instead of being up one, it could of been eight or nine. Free throws and turnovers are two things as coaches you look at during the game. … We just didn’t take care of it on the free throw line tonight.”
Notre Dame, which had its four-game winning streak snapped, has a quick turnaround before playing at Whitesboro Friday night in another matchup of top TVL teams.
Rome Free Academy 97, Notre Dame 93 (2OT)
RFA 19 15 26 19 10 8–97
ND 15 20 16 28 10 4–93
RFA (6-1, 13-3): Damien Call 11-4 27; Andrew Recco 7-2 16; Camron Williams 6-1 15; Anthony Cudhea 5-0 14; Jeremiah Bartholomew 3-4 10; Zach Wilbert 2-1 6; Jordan Baldwin 2-0 6; Isaiah Kelly 1-1 3. Totals: 37-13-97. 3-Pointers: 10 (Cudhea 4, Williams 2, Baldwin 2, Call, Wilbert).
ND (3-3, 10-5): Treijen Garrett 9-5 27; Jaylen Warmack 8-8 25; Derek Lindsay 10-2 24; Patrick Espinosa 3-0 7; Kelvin Ofari 3-1 7; Matt Quinn 1-0 3. Totals: 34-16-93. 3-Pointers: 9 (Garrett 4, Lindsay 2, Warmack, Espinosa, Quinn).
Nick Sardina is a writer for midyorksportsreport.com. Follow Nick onTwitter @nsardinamysr or on Facebook. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org