Michael Bullock (@thebullp_n)
NEW HOLLAND — As they huddled prior to the fourth quarter — and down by double figures — Brandon Coleman and his Northeastern teammates figured they had one last chance to keep their season moving in a positive direction.
So they just went out and gave it everything they could.
And while Coleman got everything started at the beginning of the final quarter, everyone else sporting white jerseys with orange-and-black trim had a say in how the rest of the festivities eventually played out … and played out … and played out.
Collecting 23 of his game-high 30 points from the first tick of the final stanza on — including going a perfect 9-for-9 from the floor — Coleman’s sensational play down the stretch fueled a comeback that ultimately turned into Northeastern collaring an 86-84 victory over Archbishop Carroll that needed a pair of overtimes to decide.
“Really just my teammates having confidence in me,” said Coleman, referring to his shooting display from the floordown the stretch. “When we were coming out, they said if he sags off, shoot the ball. I shot the first one and made it and that just boosted my confidence. It was skyrocketing from there.”
Fred Mulbah (19), Antonio Rizzuto (16) and Austin Greene (12) also cracked double figures as Jon Eyster’s Bobcats (30-2) finally collared Saturday afternoon’s PIAA Class 5A quarterfinal-round thriller before a howling crowd at juiced Garden Spot High School.
Nate Wilson chimed in with nine points for the York Countians — including a pair of timely treys in that pivotal fourth quarter — who propelled themselves into Monday’s semifinals opposite Meadville at a site and time to be determined.
Meadville eliminated Mars 53-46 in Saturday’s other 5A quarterfinal.
Carroll (20-9), unable to close out yet another all-or-nothing victory since a late regular-season surge put Paul Romanczuk’s remarkably talented Patriots in position to advance to states, popped all five members of its starting lineup into double figures before the dramatic 40-minute instant classic finally came to an exhausting close.
Even Saint Joseph’s skipper Phil Martelli and Colgate head coach Matt Langel — just two of the college hoops types on hand — had to be enthralled by what they witnessed.
While Colin Daly topped Carroll with 19 points, Justin Anderson and splendid freshman lead guard A.J. Hoggard checked in with 16 points apiece, 6-6 big man Jesse McPherson finished with 14 and Khari Williams banked a dozen.
McPherson added 13 rebounds and Williams grabbed 11 for the Patriots (20-9), who outboarded the smallish yet wonderfully athletic Bobcats by a 45-32 margin. The 6-3 Hoggard also doled out eight assists to his Carroll teammates.
And when Hoggard canned a pair of free throws with 25.4 seconds remaining in the third quarter — the final pieces of a productive 17-6 salvo that was highlighted by eight Williams points — Romanczuk’s Patriots appeared to be in terrific shape.
Particularly since the Philly Catholic League entry was on the high side of a 54-39 score.
Plus, Northeastern wasn’t flashing any white flags in its determined huddle.
“We’ve gotten down before, but when we got down today we just told each other that it doesn’t matter what happens we’ve just got to go out and fight together,” Coleman said. “We just went out and scrapped, played as hard as we could and we ended up coming back. From now on, we just tried to keep playing as hard as we could.
“And maybe we’d have chance to win.”
While Coleman’s finish at the tin, Wilson’s splashed 3-balls and a pair of Mulbah freebies had the partisan Northeastern crowd beginning to grow restless, the Bobcats were still down 11 (60-49) after McPherson knocked down a pair.
Pressure defense also helped.
Just 5:03 was showing.
Coleman suddenly erupted, pocketing Northeastern’s next 11 points as the flammable Bobcats drew within two (62-60) at the 2:20 mark. While the 6-2 senior knocked down a pair of rainbow treys, he also got to the rack twice and was 1-for-2 at the line.
“Brandon and Nate Wilson, they won us this game,” said the 5-9 Mulbah, who added five rebounds and five assists to his stat line.
“He was fantastic,” Romanczuk offered. “Talk about toughness and grit and all the stuff that we like to talk about in sports, they had that down the stretch. They hit some contested runners, they hit deeper than deep 3s, they really had a toughness about them, a competitive will and desire about them that you don’t see too often.”
“Once he got into a good place, we were gonna be able to score a little easier,” Eyster said, referring to Coleman’s marvelous fourth quarter.
What made defensive life doubly hard for Romanczuk’s Patriots was Coleman, Rizzuto and Mulbah can shoot the 3-ball and beat people off the bounce.
“It’s hard to stay in front of us,” Eyster remarked.
Once Carroll closed out on Coleman, he was on his way to the hoop regularly.
“We trust in Brandon,” Mulbah said.
“When he’s hot, he’s hot and he knows what to do with it.”
While Hoggard converted two freebies with 16.9 seconds to play to give Carroll a 65-62 lead, Greene bagged the back end of a two-shot look to pull the Bobcats within two with 5.2 seconds on the clock. What followed was an offensive foul when Hoggard tried to come back for the ball on an inbounds play, yet ran into and over Rizzuto.
That charge call gave the Bobcats one last chance.
And when the 5-9 Mulbah found space in the Carroll defense, he sped to the hoop, lifted off and put the ball on the glass just in time to tie the score. OT awaited.
“I caught the ball in the corner, but the process was to just get a good shot,” Mulbah recalled. “When I drove around, I saw a big opening. It just parted.
“It was like the Red Sea and I just finished.”
“We just told each other we can’t let up,” Coleman said of the message before OT began. “We fought that whole fourth quarter to get back, so we had to play with that same energy throughout overtime.”
Back in front with 1:45 remaining in the first OT when Daly swished a runner from the left baseline, Coleman’s successful slash some 20 seconds later tied the game at 73-all. Carroll had a chance to win it late, but Hoggard missed and Greene latched on.
As the second extra session unfolded, Northeastern was sitting on a six-point cushion (84-78) with 28.5 seconds to play when Rizzuto swished a pair of freebies. Hoggard’s 3-pointer halved the deficit, but Greene responded with two free throws.
Another Hoggard triple with 12 seconds to go cut Northeastern’s lead to two (86-84), but Coleman failed to convert either of his two free throws moments later, giving the Patriots one last chance. Hoggard had a good look at the equalizer, but his driving foray to the hoop would not fall and the Bobcats latched on to the miss.
“I love high school basketball,” Romanczuk said. “This was a fantastic game for the fans to watch. Wasn’t a fantastic game for me on the sidelines to stomach at times down the stretch, but it was great. It was a really good high school basketball game.
“All the credit goes to them, to Northeastern for how they kept battling,” Romanczuk continued. “They didn’t give up. They could’ve laid down at the end, but they just kept coming. They have a lot of toughness about them and that’s what it takes to make deep state playoff runs and I thought my team really had that as well.”
Only Northeastern will be moving on, however.
“We’re the first [basketball] team in school history to be this far, so it means a lot,” Mulbah admitted. “Very neat.”
“We’ve just got to do the same thing we did today,” Coleman added. “We’ve just got to come out and play as hard as we can and move forward.”