Close call: Northstar Christian avoids upset in double OT thriller

by PAUL CIFONELLI 

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – At one point in the third quarter, Buffalo East led Northstar Christian Academy by a score of 50-35. The gym was nearly silent and the sounds of people’s phones were audible from across the gym. By the end of the third, the Knights pulled to within eight points. Chaos ensued from there.

Northstar Christian junior Sean Smith knew that, despite only losing once so far this season, his team needed to battle back into the game and wasn’t going to be handed the opportunity to win the game.

“We’re very resilient,” Smith said. “We came together when we needed to and our chemistry, it just shows in getting a 90-83 win over a great team. And respect to those guys over there [for Buffalo East]. But in the end, we came out victorious.”

Just one night after Northstar Christian sophomore Ryan Garwood set a Section V record with 13 made threes, the young sharpshooter did not quite look the same. He missed some open threes and couldn’t seem to get a floater to drop. That all changed when his team needed him in the final 12 minutes of regulation, as he hit a three with just under four and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter to put the Knights up 62-58.

Ryan knew that his team was going to be able to battle back from the early deficits because of some of the traits it possesses.

“We’ve just got experience, we’ve got chemistry,” he said. “Experience, that helps a lot in these situations.”

That four-point advantage was Northstar Christian’s second of the quarter and first since very early in the first quarter. Buffalo East ended up tied at 70 again and the two teams traded baskets in the final minute to head to overtime knotted up at 72.

Smith made a three with just under two and a half minutes left in the first overtime period to even the score at 77.

The Panthers went on a quick 5-0 run to put the Knights’ backs against the wall again. Ryan and sophomore Turner Harris responded, with the former knocking down another three and the latter converting a breakaway layup with under a minute to go in the period. Both Smith and Buffalo East senior David Hughes missed shots in the final three seconds to send the contest to a second overtime with a score of 82-82.

While most coaches would become frenzied during a back-and-forth game like this, Northstar Christian head coach JJ Garwood stayed composed and confident during the big moments. He even displayed that confidence to his team before what ended up being the final overtime frame.

“Honestly, at the start of the double overtime after the second opportunity we had to win the game and it didn’t happen, I just had a confidence with our team,” the elder Garwood said. “I tried to tell the guys, ‘Hey guys, this is our game. The momentum is totally in our favor. We’re going to pull this out.’ And I think they fed off of my confidence and bought in and finished it off.”

That is when Northstar Christian controlled the game. With Buffalo East junior Jaiden Green, who was disruptive on the boards and a strong finisher in the paint, fouled out, the Knights were able to attack paint more easily and get cleaner looks at the basket. Northstar Christian also held the Panthers to one point in the final four minutes, as opposed to its eight. When the final buzzer sounded, the Knights came away with a hard-fought, 90-83 victory.

Senior Danny Carter controlled most of the game in the first half for Buffalo East. With senior Dontaye Miller on the bench with foul trouble, Carter stepped up when his team needed him most. He scored 13 of his 21 points in the first half. Hughes led the Panthers in scoring with 24 points. Green pitched in another 20 for the visitors. Miller finished with 11 points, senior Jeremy McKitchen had five and senior Lawson Carter had two for Buffalo East.

Ryan Garwood and Smith both buried six shots from behind the arc in the contest, with the former scoring 26 points and the latter 25. Smith also added eight assists to his scoring total. Harris pitched in 18 points to the winning effort. Junior Andrew Newcombe and senior Khalil Iverson both had double-doubles in the game. Newcombe had 10 points, 15 rebounds and six assists, while Iverson had 11 points and 10 boards.

Northstar Christian’s next game will be on Tuesday, Jan. 28, when the Knights host Greece Olympia.

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