SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Freddy Shove rebounded an errant three-pointer, took the ensuing foul and went to the line to further cement the fourth-quarter comeback his St. John's Prep Eagles were about to pull off, all the while his his teammates stood at the other end of the floor quietly taking some deep breaths.
"Those are the best feelings," said the Eagles' Notre Dame-bound star Pat Connaughton, who got hot in the second half of this 62-53 win over the Chicago-based Perspectives Charter. "You’re standing on the court, game’s pretty much over, you’re up by nine, 13 seconds left, it’s kinda like our job here is done."
Granted, the comeback was aided by the absence of the Wolves' Durant-ish superstar, Kentucky-bound senior Anthony Davis (30 points, 16 rebounds, seven blocks). With 2:30 to go and the Eagles holding a five-point lead, Davis landed awkwardly -- and hard -- on his right wrist, and lay in pain before walking off the floor and into the trainer's room. Davis, the No. 2 player in the Class of 2011 in ESPN's latest rankings, was not made available to the media following the game, but Perspectives head coach Cortez Hale said "It’s nothing serious, he’s just going to put in in a splint and get it iced."
At that point, though, the Eagles had already found a way to neutralize the Wolves' size advantage with a suffocating full-court press, trapping Davis at halfcourt to force one his deep outlet passes to the guard, essentially putting the game unto someone other than the superstar with guard-like handle.
"I just think we needed to speed the pace of the game up," Prep head coach Sean Connolly said. "We were kind of lackadaisical in the first half, like I said I wanted to make their guards have to make decisions with the ball. I think that was where we had a little bit of an advantage on them."
In all, Prep outscored Perspectives 29-11 in the fourth quarter, led by Connaughton (19 points, 13 rebounds, five steals, three blocks) and Steve Haladyna (25 points, six rebounds). After starting the quarter on a 7-2 run, Prep ultimately went ahead on three dazzling plays from Connaughton in a 70-second span. First, Connaughton pulled up at the top of the key and sank a three -- his first of the day, after missing the previous eight -- to make it 49-49. On the other end, he scooped up Davis' errant free throw and, with Mike Carbone lined up for a trey at the right wing, crashed through the lane and tip-slammed the errant three.
"I was just trying to be aggressive," Connaughton said. "At the beginning of the game, I was being passive and wasn’t hitting my shots, so it made me feel like it has to be a little more passive, because when you’re shooting and you’re not hitting your shots, you kinda feel like ‘alright, am I shooting too much?’ I’m not looking out there to just jack up shots, get my points, im out there to get a win."
On the ensuing trip down the floor for Perspectives, Shove drew a charge from Jarred Elliot, setting up a go-ahead three from Connaughton and a 54-51 lead with 2:47 left to go. Haladyna then helped shut the lid, converting a layup for a 56-51 lead and creating openings in the half-court for Connaughton to drive and take fouls the final minute.
"I thought we handled it well," Connaughton said of the last four minutes. "I think we had a spread there pretty much the whole fourth quarter where we’re attacking and playing hard, being aggressive, but then near the end we kinda got a little passive again, they almost came back but we closed them down really well. We hit our free throws for the most part. They were up almost the whole game, but in the end we did what it took to win the game."
Quite a difference from the first half, when the Eagles were miserable from the field, shooting just 21.2 percent -- including just three of 17 from three-point range -- against a stiff Perspectives zone that had Davis collapsing to the paint from the baselines. In all, Connaughton and Carbone combined to go just 2 for 20 from long distance.
"Our gameplan was basically to make the shooters drive and force them to be drivers not shooters," Hale said. "We knew they were pretty good shooters so we were basically putting a hand up and forcing them to drive to Anthony’s [Davis] side. We did that great in the first three quarters but then in the fourth quarter Pat [Connaughton] got comfortable when he hit those shots and got real happy."