It certainly wasn’t easy, and it took overtime to do it, but the Byram Hills boys’ basketball team found a way to defeat Ardsley in last Thursday evening’s league game.
Skylar Sinon and Ben Leff each scored 24 points as the Bobcats edged the visiting Panthers 61-59 in a nail-biter of a contest that featured three lead changes in the final 60 seconds of regulation. A fast-break layup by Jack Lorenzo a minute and a half into overtime gave the Bobcats a one-point lead and they never trailed again.
“I think any time when it’s harder to win, it makes you stronger,” said Bobcats head coach Ted Repa afterwards. “So it’s part of the process. Ardsley’s a good team. They were hungry, they were coming off a tough loss and, you know, league games are always tough.”
Hosting a team they had already beaten by 17 points at the Westchester County Center just three weeks earlier, the Bobcats this time needed big baskets from Leff and Sinon in the last minute of the fourth quarter to overcome a late three-point deficit and force overtime. Leff wound up making five of six free-throw attempts in the extra session when Byram was outscoring the Panthers 11-9 and improving its record to 10-3 this season.
“We’re still trying to figure our way with all these injuries,” said Repa, whose team is currently playing without second leading scorer Willy Samsen after having to compete minus Leff in its first seven games. “We have some young kids in pivotal spots and they have to get better.”
The Bobcats got early buckets from Sam Goldman and Michael Parrotta and never trailed in the opening quarter. But a 3-pointer by the Panthers’ Sean Casey with a minute to go sent the teams into the second period tied at 12 apiece. Ardsley then took its first lead of the night, 16-15, on a baseline jumper from Henry Bretts.
Byram Hills was trailing 20-17 late in the second quarter before closing the half on an 8-0 spurt. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Sinon and Leff gave the Bobcats a three-point edge, then Sinon added a 17-foot jumper from the right baseline just before the buzzer. When play resumed after the halftime break, Ardsley scored the first five points, tying the game on another Casey 3-point shot.
Neither team was able to build a lead larger than four points the rest of the way. Ardsley took a 34-33 lead to the fourth quarter but Byram soon used a 6-0 burst to grab a 39-35 advantage. The quick run included a turnaround pop from Leff in the lane, a 15-foot pullup jumper by Sinon and then both ends of a 1-and-1 free-throw opportunity by Leff.
But Ardsley eventually regained the lead at 44-43 when Zeke Blauner, who scored a team-high 19 points, connected on a three from the right corner as the shot clock was about to expire with 2:22 remaining. The Panthers’ margin grew to 47-44 after Julian McGarvey powered his way to the basket for an old-fashioned 3-point play with 1:42 to go.
A layup by Leff on a dish from the penetrating Sinon gave Byram Hills a 48-47 lead with exactly a minute to go. Blauner’s leaner off glass 20 seconds later put Ardsley back in front before Sinon followed his own miss with a short jumper from right of the lane to give the Bobcats a 50-49 edge with 22.6 seconds on the clock. McGarvey tied the game by hitting the front end of a 1-and-1 with 12.8 seconds left. That set the stage for the Bobcats, after a timeout, to set up a game-winning shot.
They had seven seconds to work with, but Sinon was surrounded near the top of the key as he started for the basket. The ball was knocked loose and time expired, sending the teams to overtime tied at 50 apiece.
“They did a good job,” said Repa of the last-stand defensive effort by the Panthers. “They double teamed Skylar. We’ve got to have other guys making basketball plays. When opponents take away what we diagram, you have to become a basketball player. And we have some guys still standing and watching.”
A layup by Vince Manzi 30 seconds into the four-minute overtime gave Ardsley its final lead of the game. But a minute later, the Bobcats’ Lorenzo drove the length of the court for his tough layup that put the Bobcats back in front to stay. Two free throws by Blauner with 41.9 seconds left cut the Byram lead to 57-56.
Leff made four consecutive foul shots in the waning seconds to give the Bobcats a 61-57 margin with 10 seconds on the clock before McGarvey drove for a too little, too late layup just before the final buzzer. The free throws by Leff were huge, but it was a play by him at the defensive end midway through the overtime, collecting a charging call against the athletic Blauner on a drive through the lane, that drew the most praise from his coach.
“I think the most important play of the game was when Ben Leff took the charge on him,” said Repa. “I think that was pivotal. You know, once you take that charge, when somebody drives they’re thinking, ‘Uh oh, am I gonna get a foul?’ Doesn’t feel good when somebody takes a charge on you. So that was the most important thing, I thought.”
The Bobcats capped their week 24 hours later by nipping Kingston 73-69, once again at home, behind 31 points from Leff and 27 more from Sinon. But Repa can hardly wait for the return of Samsen to provide the third offensive weapon his team desperately needs to avoid future dramatic finishes.
“Last year, we blitzed through every game and then we ended up losing (in the sectional semifinal),” he said. “So maybe this is a better path for us.”