YORK TWP. — Between a gaggle of one-possession victories that lead to restless late nights taking care of 1-month-old son Tyson, Matt Saunders may need an EKG sooner rather than later.
His Buckeye boys basketball team continues to win, albeit in a highly frustrating way. Then again, there’s no denying the Bucks’ swagger as they pulled off a grind-it-out 57-56 win over Brooklyn in Patriot Athletic Conference cross-division action Friday.
Overcoming a 16-point second-half deficit against the Hurricanes (5-9, 4-6) could prove to be a season-defining moment, as Buckeye (10-4, 7-3) is five games away from the Stars Division championship.
“In the locker room (at halftime), Coach told us we had to find it within ourselves to get pumped up and win the game,” said junior Garrett Beck, who scored 15 of his team-high 18 points in the second half. “No matter how it ended, we had to be happy with the 16 minutes we played in that second half. I’m so happy about those 16 minutes.”
At the forefront of the comeback were Beck and sophomore Ryan Grauel.
Despite missing 13 of their first 18 free throw attempts, the Bucks methodically chipped away at the deficit while Brooklyn elected to stall over the final 5 minutes. Five straight free throws by Beck, Chris Vogt (8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Jeff Miller (7, 10) made it 52-48 before Beck drilled a big 3-pointer from the corner with 2:48 remaining.
Using heady point guard Dan Lott to control the ball, the Hurricanes stayed true to the game plan. One of the few times it worked was when Alex Sommers canned a wide-open layup to make it 54-51.
Not to be denied, Buckeye’s John Tighe countered with a layup and Brooklyn’s Michael Byndas (13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks) missed two straight shots to set up Grauel for an awkward floater in traffic to give the Bucks a 55-54 lead with 1:33 left.
But it was far from over, as the thick-chested Byndas swished two pressure-packed free throws at 44 seconds. They paved the way for the heart-stopping sequence of the night, as Grauel ignored a Miller pick-and-roll and drove for a baseline layup with 34.2 seconds left.
“I just got fired up and I figured out I could take my guy,” Grauel said. “I decided I was going to be more aggressive and take the shots I needed to.”
Grauel nearly came up with a steal at the other end, but was out of bounds, and the Hurricanes inbounded to Byndas with 6.3 seconds remaining. Miller’s perfect defense at the 3-point line forced Byndas to pass to Dan Czirr (game-high 20 points), whose contested turnaround 17-footer failed to draw iron with less than a second remaining.
Considering how porous Buckeye’s defense was all night, it was an impressive last-second stand.
“I was extremely happy that we kept working hard,” Saunders said. “We came out in the second half with something to prove.
“At times, we fall into the trap of thinking it’s going to be handed to us instead of having to work for it. Boy, did we have to work for it tonight.”
For the better part of 2½ quarters, Buckeye appeared on the verge of getting whopped on its own floor. Brooklyn’s efficient ball movement got it a wide variety of good looks — it shot 12-of-22 in the first half — and a Czirr 3-pointer put the Hurricanes up 41-25 early in the third quarter.
Beck finally got going to spark the comeback — the small forward scored nine points in the quarter — but the key sequence came when athletic 5-foot-10 defensive wizard Tighe stole back-to-back passes, with the first resulting in a breakaway in which he thought about dunking before laying in the rock off glass.
“John is a great defender,” Beck said. “I told him to take No. 10 (Lott) because he was wearing me down. We needed him to step up and he did.”
Though the second swipe ultimately resulted in a turnover, it was the emotional boost the otherwise sleepwalking Bucks needed. Coupled with the Hurricanes making mistakes in their stall offense, Buckeye was not going to be denied.
There’s no doubt Saunders’ message was heard.
“I hope we can turn it around because that’s the third win we’ve had to grind out when we really shouldn’t have needed to,” Beck said. “We got out to a slow start, and we need to start playing with that intensity that we had at the end of the game at the beginning.”
The start of the varsity game was delayed for nearly 30 minutes after Brooklyn junior varsity play Austin Guder was taken off the court on a stretcher. The sophomore was inadvertently elbowed in the back of the head as time expired, and was experiencing slight numbness in one of his arms. He received a standing ovation paramedics escorted him out of the gym.
Buckeye’s JV scored the final eight points to win 45-44. Freshman center Nick Wills had 11 points, seven rebounds, five assists and eight steals, while freshman guard Nathan Polidori added a team-high 12 points. Tim Czirr had 17 points and seven boards for the Hurricanes.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.