Nick Minck's three-point play with three seconds left in overtime gave Emerson the winning points in a 55-52 victory over Saddle River Day on Tuesday night.
EMERSON – The play was supposed to include Nick Minck on the wing with the ball in his hands, but it was not designed to end that way. Tied in the waning seconds of overtime at home against Saddle River Day, Minck was supposed to be the facilitator, the one to make the entry pass into John Dime, Emerson’s leading scorer and the player that head coach John Ziemba preferred to take the last shot.
“The kid Minck, the play was not drawn up for him, but he has some guts,” said Ziemba. “He knew what was left on the clock, he saw that the defense was taking Dime away and he saw that they were giving them the drive and he did what he had to do.”
What Minck had to do was put the ball on the floor from the wing, drive the baseline, take a tough runner from in close and sweat out the whistle that was blown while he was in the air. It was the classic block/charge decision that the referee was forced into, it went Minck’s way and he also made the accompanying free throw with :03 left on the clock for the winning points in a 55-52 victory.
“The plan was to get the ball to Dime, but they were doubling him the whole game and I just felt like I had to get in there and take the shot myself. That is what I did,” said Minck. “I saw Dime open in the post for a second but then the kid guarding him fronted him. They were overplaying me so I thought I could go by and they tried to step in for the charge but they got there too late. I put the shot up and it happened to fall.”
Saddle River Day's Nick Eiler hit a three-pointer with 8 seconds left in the fourth quarter to force overtime.
That shot and the free throw finally put an end to an entertaining game in which neither team had more than nine point lead. Saddle River Day led 15-12 after the first quarter before Emerson Pete Durocher scored the final five points of the second quarter to put his team in front, 19-17, at the break.
Dime, Emerson’s leading scorer and one of the best post players in the NJIC, was the focus of the Rebels’ defense all night long. If they were not in a sagging zone designed to clog the middle, the Rebels played a man defense with a second defender always made available to make it tough for Dime to get touches in the post or find room to maneuver when he did. Dime was limited to just two points in the first half and did not score for the first 5:56 of the third quarter, but he broke out soon after and Emerson almost pulled away for good.
Dime got going at the free throw line and made four of them in the midst of a 10-3 Emerson run that gave the Cavos the largest lead for either team in the game, 33-24, before Saddle River Day’s Kevin Ranaghan hit a step-in jumper to get his team back to within seven points heading into the fourth quarter.
The Rebels tightened it up further by scoring the first four points of the fourth quarter, the first three coming on Ryan Toronto’s conventional three-point play, to get within three points and it was nip-and-tuck for the rest of regulation.
“Night in and night out we have put together a good scouting report and the kids play hard throughout the whole game. We are trying to get over the hump,” said Saddle River Day head coach Anthony Gallo. “We graduated all of our size and a lot of experience, so we are a very young team trying to grind out games at the end.”
Kyle Covello scored 9 points for Emerson, which improved to 8-2 on the season.
The Rebels nearly did just that as they hung around long enough that a couple of key plays late in regulation gave them the opportunity to extend the game into overtime. A held ball off a missed shot awarded SRD another possession with 46 seconds left in the fourth quarter and it missed a potential game-tying three-pointer, but instead of having to scramble around trying to foul, Toronto picked off the outlet pass and gave the Rebels a third try at a tie.
This time Nick Eiler cashed in the opportunity with a trey that knotted the score at 45 with eight seconds to play and the Rebels almost won in stunning fashion when Garrett Kuhlman got a steal and launched from halfcourt only to see the ball bounce off the backboard and front rim before falling to the floor at the buzzer.
Dime, who scored 14 of his team-high 16 points after halftime and 10 of those in the fourth quarter and overtime, opened the extra session with a basket in transition to put Emerson up for good.
“It was really frustrating in the beginning but in the second half I started working outside a little more, driving to the basket a little more rather than trying to set up in the post where they could double me easier,” said Dime. “I had to use my jumper a little more and get out to the short corner to open things up.”
Durocher scored on a drive and David Johanson made a free throw to make it 50-45 with 2:26 to go, but still the Rebels did not pack it in. Two inbounds plays from under the basket that did not go off as planned turned into two Connor Cyran clean-up buckets, the second of which came with 49 second to go and had SRD to within 51-50. Durocher then made one of one of two free throws which was answered by a two free throws by SRD’s Seb Giannotti with 22 seconds to go that tied the score at 52.
Kevin Ranaghan scored a game-high 18 points for Saddle River Day which fell to 5-7 on the season.
Then, with Dime in the post and with the ball on the wing, Minck made his move and it turned into the game-winner made official when the Rebels last-ditch effort, a heave from the halfcourt, was off the mark.
Emerson is now 8-2 on the season heading into a Thursday matchup against Cresskill, which has separated itself from the rest of the NJIC so far. Regardless of what that result might be, the Cavos have put themselves in a position for an automatic bid to the Bergen County Jamboree.
“I did not envision this. These kids are tough kids. This is such a small school, we have lost kids to parochial schools, which is hard for a small town. We are one of the three smallest schools in Bergen County, but these kids are really starting to believe," said Ziemba. “This place is different. You saw the crowd, the student section and in a lot of places kids don’t come to games anymore. They come, they dress up and they are a big part of our success. They don’t chant derogatory stuff, they are actually pretty comical, it is great to be a part of and hopefully we can get a couple more wins and get into the Jamboree.”
Dime was joined in double figures by Durocher (13 points) and Kyle Covello and Johanson each finished with 9. Minck scored half of his 8 points in overtime as Emerson got all of its scoring from its starting five. Ranaghan (18 points) and Cyran (13 points) finished in double figures for Saddle River Day. Giannotti added 8 off the bench, Toronto and Eiler each added 5, seemingly all of them in big spots and Kuhlman’s three-pointer rounded out the scoring for the Rebels, who fell to 5-7 on the season.
“Six of our losses have been to Top 20 rankings for whatever they are worth, so we are hanging in there,” said SRD’s Gallo, a young head coach for a young team that figures to keep improving over the back half of the season. “The effort is there and I am excited to see what the second half brings. I really think the experience of being in some of these close games is going to help us, but we have to find a way to get over the hump and make some shots.”