ANDOVER, Mass. -- Jaycob Morales wasn’t the first option, but he turned out to be the best option.
Thursday night’s boys basketball game between Andover High and Central Catholic was tied when Central coach Rick Nault called a timeout with 12.5 seconds remaining in regulation. Nault called a play designed for junior guard Luis Puello or 6-foot-7 senior Jimmy Zenevitch to take the final shot.
Andover had the play well-defended, however, and with time running out Morales launched a shot from behind the 3-point line that fell through the hoop as time expired to hand the Raiders a 59-56 victory.
“It wasn’t a shot that I was just praying to go in,” Morales said. “It felt good. I was happy with a shot like that, make or miss.
“You could say I’m not incredible (from three-point territory), but it’s more that I don’t shoot the ball as much. My team does have a lot of confidence in me, and that really helps me out with my shooting."
Morales finished with 10 points, including three 3-pointers.
“We didn’t want to run anything until there were eight seconds to go,” Nault explained. “I told Jaycob the first option was a handoff to Luis. Our first look was to create something one-on-one. Our second look was Jimmy on a dive.
“We knew the defense was going to collapse. I said, ‘Jaycob, your guy’s gonna sag. You’ve got that kick-out three at the buzzer.’ He made it.”
It was the second time Central Catholic has defeated Andover in three tries this season. The Raiders, the No. 1 team in ESPNBoston's MIAA Top 25 poll, raised their record to 17-1 overall, and 13-0 in the Merrimack Valley Conference.
Andover, which received 22 points from senior guard Joe Bramanti, dropped to 13-4 overall and 9-4 in the MVC.
“We did everything we’re supposed to do [on the final possession], and then we lose Morales in the corner,” Andover head coach Dave Fazio said. “They make a huge shot. They always make big plays. I feel bad for the kids. It’s their Senior Night, but it’s a learning experience for us. It doesn’t cost us anything because we couldn’t win the league anyway. It’s a pride game. It’s a Duke-North Carolina game."
He added, “I just put on the board: Victories tell you a little, defeats tell you a lot.”
Central Catholic received a game-high 26 points from Zenevitch. Puello finished with 12. Craig Luschenat tossed in 13 and was the only other Andover player to reach double figures.
“This rivalry is truly the best rivalry in the state in my opinion –- in terms of high school basketball,” Nault said. “It’s something special to the kids.”
Central Catholic held a 27-20 lead at halftime, but no one in the gym could have predicted what unfolded in the third quarter. Andover scored the first 18 points in the third. Central Catholic didn’t score until Morales made a 3-pointer with 1:22 left in the quarter.
Andover led 42-31 entering the fourth.
“I thought we played a very energetic first half,” Nault said. “In the third quarter we were very flat with emotion, and offensively there were a lot of guys standing around. We weren’t getting any ball movement. We weren’t getting guys in the post. We weren’t getting ball reversals, and we struggle when we do that.”
“When you’re down going into any quarter – especially the fourth – if you stay calm and trust in your team then you can pretty much do anything you want,” Zenevitch said.
Central Catholic went on a 17-2 run at the start of the fourth and led 48-44 with 5:12 to play. Zenevitch made two old-fashioned three-point plays during the spurt. He scored 14 of his 26 points in the fourth.
The Raiders led 56-53 after Zenevitch made his final field goal with just over a minute to play, but Andover tied the contest on a Luschenat 3-pointer with 56.8 seconds left. It remained that way until Morales connected on the 3-pointer that made him the game’s unlikely hero.
“The game is all tempo and momentum,” Fazio said. “It’s no excuse, but fatigue obviously plays a factor with our guys and our depth.
“The difference in the game is Zenevitch. We just can’t match up. We have to cheat, and when you cheat and you help other guys make you pay.”