By MICHAEL LETENDRE
WATERBURY – When all looked lost for the St. Paul boys basketball squad in its Naugatuck Valley League showdown against Holy Cross, the Falcons found that something extra to stave off defeat.
Whether it was a deflection, a made free throw, or a dagger three-pointer, St. Paul showed the packed crowd from the Holy Cross Gymnasium a little what the term “team” was truly all about.
And the Falcons did it in a loud way, coming all the way back from a five-point deficit with less than five seconds left to play in the first overtime session to pushing its lead out to eight to eventually pick up an improbable 78-75 win in Waterbury.
From an outside view, the game looked lost for the visitors with 16.7 seconds remaining in the first extra period as two free throws by Cross’s Nick Warren (20 points) made it a 65-60 contest with the Falcons down but not quite out.
It was a possession by possession finish and the script St. Paul head coach Steve Phelps and his staff put together worked to perfection.
Of course, those Falcons’ players worked a little magic of their own into the mix as well.
The run was started by Brendan Carroll — who scored an amazing 12 points in overtime — canned the biggest three-pointer of the game with 3.1 seconds left to make it a 65-63 game.
And when Holy Cross went to inbound the ball off the ensuing play, it was a huge interception by Kyle Dube that foiled the Crusaders’ chance at victory.
Dube picked off the pass under the Holy Cross basket and was quickly fouled, setting up a chance for game tying free throws in what should have been a pressure filled moment.
Put simply, Dube wasn’t going to be denied and calmly sank home both attempts.
“Holy Cross called a timeout, I just went to (the St. Paul) bench and the whole team was telling me (those free throws were going in),” said Dube. “I went to the line and I knew (the shots) were going in.”
However, with one second left and the game knotted at 65, Cross tried to throw the ball all the way down the court for a quick shot but the toss hit the roof at mid-court.
Suddenly, St. Paul had the ball under its own hoop with a chance to win it.
But a lob and quick shot attempt by Tyler Jones missed and yet another four minutes was necessary as the teams were stuck on 65-65.
To start the second overtime installment — with the Falcons enjoying a 5-0 run going into the fray — St. Paul made it nearly academic quickly.
Jones hit an early hoop off a feed from Dube and later on, Carroll hit two critical three throws to make it a six-point game with 2:18 left.
Finally, Jones scored two off a steal and with less than 2:00 left on the clock, the Falcons just about knocked out the Crusaders at 73-65 and in total, that 13-0 spurt was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“There’s no question that we were fortunate in that time but I do believe that you have to create your fortune,” said St. Paul coach Steve Phelps. “I think Carroll’s a sophomore. Sometimes I’m critical of my team, the lack of basketball IQ. I preach that a lot because I have multiple sport athletes but there’s nothing like learning and when you see those types of things transacted, it is never as bad as you think it is.”
“Even if Brendan’s attempted three-pointer (in the first overtime that cut the deficit to two points late) didn’t go in, it was the right play.”
When it came to situational basketball and making every play count, St. Paul met that challenge head on and was rewarded with that eight point edge, it’s biggest lead since the 4:42 mark of the third quarter.
“We work on it every day in practice,” said Dube of different situations. “We work on transition, work we work on situations and we were prepared for it. Coach always has us prepared for every situation and I think we did a great job.”
The teams traded points from there but Cross still remained in shouting distance, getting a big hoop from Matt Cammett (13 points) to cut the deficit to 74-71.
But the home team wouldn’t get any closer as Jones and Carroll made late charity tosses to keep the contest a two possession affair.
Up four points with time running out for Cross, Carroll ended his stellar night with two clutch free throws as St. Paul rung up a 78-72 push with 2.6 seconds left.
A three-pointer found the mark for the Crusaders at the buzzer but by then, it was too late as the Falcons won 78-75 to snatch its seventh victory of the season and move to 7-6 on the
year, one victory away from another state tournament appearance.
If there were any drawbacks in the contest, it came on the rebounding end as Cross (4-9) managed to grab over two dozen offensive rebounds and made second and even third chances count.
But St. Paul countered by forcing the home team into multiple turnovers, 26 in the game, as the Falcons commitment to defense paid off.
More importantly, St. Paul kept its turnovers to a minimum and when a dash of composure was needed, the Falcons made just about every big play count.
Dube was impressive with 22 points, credited with nearly half a dozen steals to his name while hitting those two pressure-packed free throws to force the second overtime period — accomplishing all of that while playing the entire game.
“I don’t think we subbed for him tonight,” said Phelps of Dube. “So that’s 32 (minutes), plus four, plus four so that’s 40 minutes and it wasn’t a walk up and down the floor for 40 minutes.”
But Carroll’s offense was critical as he flipped in 12 of the 23 total points St. Paul scored in the two extra quarters.
Overall, Carroll netted 16 in an impressive off the bench effort.
“Brendan Carroll was just huge when the lights were pretty bright at the end of regulation and in the two overtimes,” said Phelps. “We lost (Nick) Villani to fouls, we lost (Reid) Morin to fouls, the game was wearing on and Brendan did a pretty good job.”
Reid Morin fouled out of the game but managed eight points while Nick Villani, also getting disqualified, added six and was a defensive pest all game long.
Everybody contributed in this one and that included critical stints from Jake Kawiecki (five points), Jordan Rowley (three), Daija Fitzpatrick, and Josh Dobratz.
Both teams couldn’t sustain any real momentum over the first half of action as the teams exchanged leads in more than a couple of instances.
St. Paul went up by four early off back-to-back three-pointers from Dube and Kawiecki but after one period of action, the game was an 11-11 affair.
The Falcons trailed by as many as four in the second frame but off lay ups by Dube and Villani, the game was tied up before a late jumper from Warren propelled the Cross to a 21-19 tilt at the half.
St. Paul started off the third stanza on fire, putting together a 7-0 spurt before a sweet up and under lay in by Jones made it a 33-25 game with 4:42 left.
But the Crusaders fought back and narrowed the deficit to 39-37 with eight minutes remaining in regulation.
Ethen Mester and James Thrope opened the fourth with blazing three-pointers as Cross went ahead 43-39 with 7:04 left.
That deficit eventually grew to seven, 47-40 with 5:17 remaining, but a 9-2 St. Paul zip — capped by a hoop by Jones — made it a 49-49 stalemate with 2:48 remaining in regulation.
The lead switched hands a couple times again before two clutch foul shots by Dube gave the visitors a 55-53 edge with 30.4 on the clock.
But a lay-in by Crusaders’ big man Alex Walsh (eight points) sank home a shot as the game was a 55-55 showing with 22 seconds left.
Jones missed a three-pointer at the end of regulation and the first of two overtimes quickly commenced.
The Falcons never tasted the lead in the first extra session and trailed by four early and then fell by five off two free throws by Warren with 16.7 left and the outlook was bleak.
The only problem was St. Paul wasn’t finished.
Not by a long shot as that five point hole quickly evaporated, becoming a 65-65 stalemate, and the game was finally won over the final four minutes of action.
“We knew it was a two possession game and two twos don’t do us any good,” said Phelps about the final seconds of the first overtime. “He (Carroll) spotted up and made the three. And then at the end there, we had that lob tip (by Jones to try to win it).”
In the JV game, the Falcons were 60-52 victors over Holy Cross.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE