Foxes Fall in the Class AA Semifinals to Unbeaten North Rockland

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By Andy Jacobs
The Foxes’ Justin Allen shoots the ball in the third quarter of Wednesday’s semifinal playoff game at North Rockland.

Trailing by 10 points with less than three minutes remaining against undefeated North Rockland last Wednesday evening, the Fox Lane basketball team seemed all but finished.

But then a pair of old-fashioned 3-point plays, first by Justin Allen and then by Matt Toscano, miraculously brought the Foxes back to life. They soon had possession of the ball, trailing by three, as the scoreboard clock ticked down the final 20 seconds.

One after another, the jump shots came in rapid succession from beyond the 3-point arc. First there was Allen rising off the dribble from the right elbow with 13 seconds left. Next was Michael Lombardi’s turn from the top of the key with six seconds to go. Finally, the ball wound up in Charlie Shevick’s hands just before the final buzzer for a quick-release pop out of the left corner.

Unfortunately for the Foxes, none of the three high-pressure rushed shots dropped through the basket and the host Red Raiders managed to hang on for a 47-44 victory in a Section 1, Class AA semifinal game. Despite 23 points from Allen, 16 of them in the second half, Fox Lane’s quest to reach the sectional final came to a disappointing end.

“We gave ourselves a chance to tie it at the end and potentially win the game, so there’s nothing else we could’ve done,” said Fox head coach Mike Tomassi afterwards, his voice all but gone after spending the evening trying to shout over the exuberant fans who packed the gym. “I’m proud of these guys. We were down, we fought. And we just kept fighting, fighting, fighting.”

Fox Lane junior forward Niko Dent is fouled by North Rockland’s Marco Evans in the first half of last week’s Class AA semifinal playoff game.

Facing the second-seeded and undefeated Red Raiders, Fox Lane, riding its own 10-game winning streak, got 3-point baskets from Aidan Giannelli and Shevick in the first quarter and then grabbed a 10-8 lead after the first eight minutes on a late layup by Niko Dent. The third-seeded Foxes’ lead grew to four points when Dent converted on a pair of free throws 40 seconds into the second quarter.

But North Rockland proceeded to go on a 12-0 spurt over the next four minutes and never trailed again the rest of the evening. A 3-pointer by Eze Frazier with 6:10 left in the half erased the Foxes’ 12-11 edge and put the Red Raiders in front for good. Dent finally ended the Raider run and Fox Lane’s four-and-a-half-minute scoring drought with a basket in the paint, but the reeling Foxes found themselves trailing 29-18 at halftime.

Even worse for the Foxes, who finished the season 17-6, Allen was whistled for his third foul with just 6.4 seconds remaining in the first half. He had picked up his first on an offensive foul in the game’s first minute, then was forced to the bench when he picked up his second with 3:49 left in the opening quarter.

“We had a tough start there with some early foul trouble,” said Tomassi. “But we persevered, we did some nice things, we kept battling. We knew it was gonna be a game of ups and downs.”

Allen emerged from the locker room after halftime to pour in nine points in the third quarter, but the Foxes still couldn’t chip away at the North Rockland lead. The Raiders opened up their biggest lead, 12 points, when Malachai Presswood drained a 3-pointer from the left corner two and a half minutes into the third quarter.

A layup by sophomore Elijah Barclay, who led North Rockland with 17 points, with 25 seconds to go in the period left Fox Lane trailing 39-30 with just one quarter left to play. Two minutes into the final period, Frazier drove the left baseline for a layup and the Raider lead was back up to double digits.

Dylan Watson of Fox Lane gets set to pass the ball while down on the floor in the second half of the Foxes’ 47-44 loss to undefeated North Rockland last Wednesday evening.

But 30 seconds later, a technical foul was called on North Rockland and Allen made both free throws. With 5:17 remaining, Toscano connected on a trey from the left corner, cutting the Foxes’ deficit to 41-35. Barclay then answered with back-to-back layups, the second one coming with exactly three minutes to go and giving the Raiders a 10-point lead.

The improbable Fox comeback began with an Allen bucket with 2:36 on the clock. Just six seconds later, after a timeout, an Allen steal under the basket led to his conventional 3-point play as he was hit putting in a reverse layup. North Rockland, just 3 of 10 from the line in the fourth quarter, then came up empty on the front end of a couple of 1-and-1 opportunities, providing more fuel for the Foxes’ come-from-behind bid.

With 1:18 remaining, Toscano sent up a scoop shot that caromed in as he was fouled. His free throw brought Fox Lane within two points. In the final minute, the Red Raiders got a free throw each from  Joshwa Rodriguez and Marco Evans, while the Foxes’ Giannelli also made one, setting the stage for the frenetic final sequence when the Foxes nearly sent the contest to overtime.

“You know, they could’ve run away with it,” said Tomassi about the Raiders. “But I loved how we played hard. We made some tough shots and we got stops when we needed to and made it a game. You’re on the road, playing the number-two seed in a game that should be at a neutral site, in the County Center. But it is what it is and I’m proud of the way we fought and gave ourselves a chance.”

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