St. Mark's makes thrilling comeback over NMH

SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. -- Alex Murphy was still trying to wrap his head around what happened moments earlier.

“Right now I’m trying to go through everything in my head and the events that lead up to that outcome, but I really can’t right now,” said the Duke commit and the No. 15. recruit in the Class of 2012, according to ESPN. “I just want to think about the win and how great of an environment it was. It was just a great win against a great team.”

The outcome? A double overtime, 82-74 St. Mark’s victory over Northfield-Mount Hermon. The events leading up to it? You had to see them to believe them.

With 22 seconds left in overtime Friday, NMH’s Armani Cotton drained two free throws to extend the Hoggers' lead over St. Mark’s to 64-58. Maybe it just wasn’t the Independent School League champion’s night. Murphy wouldn’t allow that.

He took the ensuing inbounds pass and charged up the floor, stopping at the three-point line. He let a shot go as the rest of the gym held its collective breath. And when they exhaled, it was a three-point game with 19.2 left.

All NMH (20-6) had to do was have a successful inbounds pass to send the Lions (25-2) into desperation foul mode. Joe Sharkey looked left, but everyone was covered. He looked back to the right, same thing: everyone was covered. Then he saw a teammate heading towards his offensive zone and launched a pass like a quarterback trying to convert a Hail Mary, but it was intercepted by St. Mark’s guard Jaymie Spears.

He passed the ball back into his offensive zone and Peter Kazickas was waiting in the corner for a spot-up three pointer. He missed, but Eric Green (14 points, five rebounds) elevated over opponents four inches taller than him to bat the ball out of the paint, to make sure his teammates had another shot to tie it.

There was Kevin Zabo, a freshman, taking a crucial shot in a game that may have been too big for some other freshmen. Zabo drained the three, tying the game at 64, sending it into another overtime.

“That was only the best basketball game that’s ever been played in this gym,” St. Mark’s head coach David Lubick said. “We were able to win because we were mentally tough, and that’s something that we talk about all the time.”

“There was a lot of good players on that floor today,” he added. “When it came time, we were tough. We talk every day about it’s one thing to be tough when you’re ahead, it’s another thing to be tough when you’re not ahead and your back is against the wall. We had guys make plays with extra effort and focus at a time when we were beaten. We were beaten, and our guys didn’t quit.”

For the first three minutes and 20 seconds of the first overtime, the Lions did not score a basket, only making one free throw. When it needed it the most, the team’s big time players made big time plays.

In the second overtime period, NMH was the team that had a hard time hitting shots. Halfway through the extra frame, it was down 71-66, but the St. Mark’s lead continued to grow to as much as nine before it finally ended 82-74.

Murphy had a quiet first half for the Lions, putting up only four points and five rebounds. He exploded in the second half, however, ending with 27 points and 10 rebounds.

In one sequence in the middle of the second half, the two teams were trading baskets and took turns taking over the lead until Alex scored three consecutive baskets and had a block and a steal, giving his team a six-point lead. He appeared to be in a totally different gear than he was in in the first half.

“I don’t think I was being assertive enough in the first half,” he said. “I was trying to get my teammates involved, which isn’t a bad thing. They made a push at the end of the first half and I knew for my team to be able to stay in the game and for us to win the game I was going to have to assert myself and do whatever I had to do to help my team win.”

Aaron Crosby, NMH’s Seton Hall-bound senior, came into the game averaging 22.1 points per game, but was noticeably absent for most, if not all of the second half. It is unknown if he injured himself in the game or if his ineffectiveness earned him a spot on the bench. He reentered the game towards the end of the second overtime, but could not help lead his team to victory. He ended with two points and one rebound.

One eye-popping statistic was the number of free throws each team had. As a team, St. Mark’s had 24 to NMH’s three in the first half alone. In the entire game, St. Mark’s went to the line 56 times while NMH only went to the line 21 times. While those numbers are staggering, it should be noted that the Lions converted 39, or almost 70 percent. NMH converted 18 of their attempts.

“They’re a very aggressive team,” said Lubick when asked about the difference. “I’m sure their coach is thinking they got home-jobbed, but our guys were tough.”

Kaleb Tarczewski, St. Mark’s 7-footer and No. 8 recruit in the Class of 2012, had nine points and nine rebounds, and fouled out with over a minute left in the first overtime.