WEST ROXBURY, Mass. -- There would be one last chance. Six seconds to cement it as an instant classic.
Both coaching staffs knew it. They each had words with the referees: one to get more time put back on the clock, the other making sure it stayed the same.
And in the end, the Brockton Boxers needed every shred of those six seconds, escaping the Ron Perry Gymnasium with a thrilling 88-87 win over newly-anointed No. 1 Catholic Memorial (13-3), courtesy a buzzer-beating three from Will Baker that won't be forgotten any time soon in the City of Champions.
Moments earlier, Brockton (13-1) had the ball in the hands of its sharpshooting guard Jaylen Blakely with the team down 86-83. As the ball came over halfcourt, everyone in the gymnasium was thinking the same thing: there is no way he wasn’t taking the shot.
Sure enough, Blakely had the ball mere feet away from his own bench, trying to dribble and maneuver to get the defender to commit even slightly to one direction. His shot hit off the rim but went right to to Jamal Reuben, who put the rebound in for the score.
There was under 10 seconds left on the clock when Brockton coach Bob Boen called a timeout. Six seconds were left. His assistant coaches and the Brockton faithful yelled at the referees to put more time on the clock. Catholic Memorial coach Denis Tobin wanted to make sure the clock didn’t change, realizing every second -- or lack thereof -- was precious in a late-game scenario like that.
Meanwhile, Boen was hard at work discussing contingency plans with his team. It was obvious his team had to foul as soon as possible on the ensuing inbounding play. But what would they do after that? What if the Catholic Memorial player missed one of his shots and made the next?
What about if he made both, which would make it a three-point game again, this time with a handful of seconds on the clock? They had one timeout left, so when would they take it? Would they take it at all?
After answering those hypotheticals, the teams broke the huddle. Catholic Memorial’s Matt Droney set up to throw the inbounds pass, as his four teammates set up on the Brockton foul line, stretching the width of the floor. The referee handed him the ball, and Armani Reeves -- inserted into the starting lineup for the suspended junior point guard Chris Siggers -- took off down the left sideline.
It seemed only fitting that Reeves, an Ohio State football commit, would be the one to catch the outlet pass that appeared more appropriate for a football field than a high school gymnasium. Reeves had two steps on Brockton’s Jerrod Shelby and caught the pass in stride, and from there it was a race to the basket.
Reeves took a few power dribbles and went up for the layup. Shelby jumped to block the shot, but the referee ruled he contacted Reeves.
In visible disagreement, Shelby walked toward the Brockton bench, not waiting around for the referees to tell him it was his fifth foul of the game. Regardless, there was still only 3.7 seconds left on the clock. Reeves was headed to the free throw line with the opportunity to make it at most a 3-point game.
He missed the first. An audible jolt of optimism shot through Brockton and its fans.
What happened next was the culmination of many things.
Brockton was out-rebounding CM all game (47-23). In the huddle during the timeout moments earlier, Boen had drawn up a play for what he expected would be the final shot his team would get to win or tie. Blakely had hit three 3-pointers in the game, so his long-range game was well known.
Reeves missed the second shot. Brockton’s Sayvonn Houston came down with the rebound and passed ahead to William Baker. Crossing over halfcourt, he saw that Blakely, who the play was designed to get the ball to, was well-covered. The shot became his and only his to take.
He elevated and sent the ball in the air. The buzzer sounded with the result of the shot still unknown. It passed through the mesh, and in an instant, Baker became a hero.
“The play was to get it to Jaylen, but honestly, they were covering him,” he said. “There was a guy sort of near me, but I wasn’t trying to worry about him. I was just trying to get up in the air as much as I could. I had to double-pump a little bit in the air, gave it a little flick of the wrist, and it went down.”
“Truthfully, they probably thought it was going to be either Jaylen or Jamal (Reuben) to take the shot, but they were both covered, and I had to put something up. Hit a miracle.”
The visiting stands emptied as a mob of players and supporting students engulfed Baker, merging this real-life sports movie moment with a little bit of NCAA Tournament magic.
“The last few games we’ve had have ended like that: it’s come down to a last-minute shot,” said Boen. “I’ve been lucky enough that I think we’ve made four of the last-minute shots. Two years ago (CM) made a few last-minute shots to beat us. That was an amazing shot. It was kind of a lucky shot you gotta say.”
Days, weeks, even months from now, no one will remember, or even care that he scored four points up until that point. They won’t care that his team was playing from behind for the whole second half until that very moment.
All that will matter and be remembered is the end result.
Boxers make late push: Perhaps the biggest aspect of the game that made it so dramatic was that until the last few minutes of the game, the Knights appeared to have the game well in hand.
After Matt Droney hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give CM a 38-36 halftime lead, the Knights came out in the second half showing why they were ranked No. 1 in many of the local polls. Droney himself had a double-digit scoring effort in the third quarter, which helped CM take a 68-57 lead into the fourth. He ended the game with 24 points.
“All the sudden, I turned to my assistant coach (in the third) and said, ‘What just happened? Where did that tie game just go?” said Boen. “(CM) has great shooters, so they’re a natural team to go on runs. If you just rest for a minute on those shooters they have, there’s going to be a run because they’re going to bang down two or three 3’s in a row on you and then you’re in trouble.”
After being outscored 30-19 in the third, Brockton (13-1) came back and erased that deficit and more over the final 8 minutes. While Brockton was able to have more success scoring in the fourth, CM kept it an eight-point game until the final two minutes of the quarter.
“All week Coach told us all week in practice this was going to be a tough game,” said Baker. “With the small gym here and the runs they could make, it was going to be tough. He said, ‘Don’t lose your heads,’ and we all calmly came into the fourth quarter and did what we had to do and hit some tough shots and came out with the win.”
Controlling the glass: Lost in the shuffle of the game is the play of Houston and Reuben. Catholic Memorial struggled to control Houston’s size and power at both ends of the floor. The 6-foot-6 senior was able to set up in the post and clean up on the offensive glass. He finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
“He did his usual job,” said Boen. “He’s a good, strong rebounder. He gives us some good defensive presence in the middle. He’s been that way all year. That’s what he’s given us all year. He’s a good, strong player who gets us a lot of easy baskets.”
After being quiet for most of the first half, Reuben exploded in the second half and was one of the main reasons why Brockton was able to come back. His 28 points (including four 3-pointers) and 14 rebounds were overshadowed by what happened in the final minutes of the game.
Early struggles: It is not often a team can overcome a double-digit second-half deficit without shooting efficiently from the free throw line, but that is what Brockton was able to do. It was 11-of-25, or 44 percent. Meanwhile, CM was 11-of-16, or 69 percent from the line.
“We had a streak where we missed four or five straight when we were down 6 points (in the fourth),” said Boen. “You gotta make those and keep it close. That is what put us in trouble. If we make those in game, then it’s a much easier game for us. Not tonight though. It would have been just as hard tonight because it was close, but most nights, if you make those, it’s a much easier game.”