Greg Karr stood at the free-throw line waiting to shoot the front end of a pivotal 1-and-1 with 26 seconds remaining Friday evening and the Horace Greeley Quakers trying to protect their precarious two-point lead over host Fox Lane.
Suddenly the noise from the overflowing Fox student section became deafening as dozens and dozens of exuberant teenage fans began stomping on the bleachers and shouting at the top of their lungs.
Undeterred, Karr calmly sank two straight foul shots, helping to clinch Greeley’s 46-41 come-from-behind victory. For the red-hot Quakers, the win was their 10th in succession and bore a striking resemblance to many of the others that preceded it.
“We found ourselves in familiar territory again,” said Greeley coach Felix Nicodemo after watching his team trail for the entire second half until two free throws by Jeremy Block with just 95 seconds remaining gave the Quakers the lead for good. “We missed a lot of open shots, but our defense kept us in this game.”
Block finished up with a game-high 21 points, while Brandon Gecaj added 17 for the Quakers, now 13-3 this season. Fox Lane, currently 7-6 after bouncing back to beat Arlington on Saturday, was led by Preston McKenney’s 18 points and Xander Alvarado’s 12.
It was Block who scored six consecutive points down the stretch in the midst of an 8-0 Quaker burst that turned a 39-35 deficit into a four-point Greeley lead. With just over three minutes left, he took a pass from Chris Melis and scored inside to tie the game at 39 apiece. He made both ends of a 1-and-1 with 1:35 on the clock to break the deadlock, then after a key Fox Lane turnover drove the lane for another basket that opened up a 43-39 Quaker edge with 1:13 to go.
“The craziest atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of,” said Block following the Quakers’ latest fourth-quarter escape. “Coach had faith in us the whole way. We stepped up in the big time. It was a great game to be a part of. I think it shows a lot about our team’s composure in the way we stick together the whole game.”
With McKenney scoring six points in the opening quarter, the Quakers found themselves trailing 9-5 after the first eight minutes. A layup by Gecaj gave Greeley a brief lead, 18-17, with 2:42 remaining in the second period, but Fox Lane closed the half on a 7-0 run, getting a layup from McKenney, a short baseline jumper by Josh Olsen and then a 3-pointer from Alvarado.
The Foxes’ six-point halftime lead grew to 31-22 after two free throws by Alvarado midway through the third quarter. Greeley, though, ended the period on a 9-1 spurt that started with a Gecaj bucket from the baseline and concluded with a put-back by Block. The Quakers went to the final period trailing by just a point, but it would take them nearly the entire quarter to finally grab the lead.
“We were struggling to get over that hump,” said Nicodemo. “We’d come close, miss some put-backs, some turnovers. And I knew once we could, from a mental standpoint, that it was gonna totally change the game a little bit. We finally did it with about a minute thirty left. From a momentum standpoint, it changed the game.”
A pair of free throws by Alvarado with 5:07 on the clock gave Fox Lane a 39-35 lead. Unfortunately for the Foxes, they only scored one more basket the rest of the evening, a layup by J R Trumpbour with a minute to go. After getting outscored by Greeley 12-1 in the final minutes of their first meeting in early January, the Foxes were this time victimized by an 11-2 Quaker closing burst.
“We battled back,” said Block. “Coach believed in us and we believed in ourselves. It just shows a lot about our team.”
After Karr silenced the Fox faithful with his two free throws that gave Greeley a 45-41 advantage with 26 seconds remaining, Fox Lane misfired on three successive 3-point tries. Any chance for a miraculous finish disappeared with four seconds left as Olsen was unable to make the first of two foul shots. With one second to go, and Karr back on the line, the Quaker fans began serenading the exiting Fox Lane supporters.
“Oh my God,” said Block about hearing his team’s fans get the last word, “it’s the greatest feeling in the world, honestly. Greatest feeling.”
For Fox Lane head coach Mike Tomassi, the last minutes of the contest were eerily similar to what he witnessed 17 days earlier.
“Yeah, the first half, we were fine,” he said. “We were executing the game plan. Second half, I think we got a little tight. Some shots didn’t fall our way. They made some plays. That’s high school basketball. Every day you’ve just got to get better, that’s it. The season’s not a sprint. It’s definitely a marathon. We still have eight games left and we’ve got to get better every day. The season’s definitely not over, definitely not over.”
Meanwhile, the Quakers’ Nicodemo was able to walk out of the gymnasium of his team’s biggest rival basking in the first double-digit winning streak of his young coaching career.
“I don’t think high school basketball can get better than this,” he said. “Friday night, crosstown rivals in a packed gym. It’s what high school basketball is all about. You can’t beat it.”