The second round of the iS8/Nike Spring High School Classic was in full effect on Saturday. Spectators feasted on eight power-packed, star-studded matchups that left the average basketball fan hyped for Sunday's quarterfinal contests. The games kicked off with an uphill battle between two formidable New York squads: New York Panthers and Rich Soil.
A few times during the matchup, one would think they knew which way the game would swing. Both squads had a fighting chance to pull this out, the former iS8/Nike Spring H.S. champs from 2009 and the Rich Soil squad who made a name for itself when they defeated the reigning champion New Heights during pool play.
However, the rollercoaster ride culminated in the final second of regulation when Pittsburgh-bound J.J. Moore (32 points) sank a clutch basket off the window to win it for the Panthers 78-77.
"Last year in the championship, I passed the ball with like six seconds to go and that cost us the game," said Moore, "and this one, I just had to go out there and score.""
The Panthers used its height advantage to earn a 12-point lead, 36-24, by the second quarter. But, led by the quick, dynamic point guard skills of Tavon Sledge (eight points), Rich Soil brought the game within five points, 40-35, with some sharp assists to the inside and the outer circle. Still, the Panthers were able to extend its lead a bit on a jumper by Moore with about 15 seconds remaining before halftime.
Panthers led 44-37 at the break.
Into the third quarter, Sledge nailed a nice pull-up for his first field-goal of the contest to bring the game within one point, 46-45. Later, Rich Soil was able to take a one-point advantage, 49-48. However, the lead would be short-lived as Bronx, N.Y.-native Jeffrey Short (11 points) regained the lead for the Panthers. Teammate Ryan Rhoomes (16 points) and Moore pushed the Panthers' lead up to six points, 55-49.
Rich Soil's Achraf Yacoubou (23 points) answered by knocking down a 3-pointer to close the margin to four points, 55-51.
Shortly thereafter, back-to-back 3-pointers by Rich Soil's Chavaughn Lewis (18 points) tied the game up at 57. Yacoubou netted another bucket for Rich Soil before the game tied up again, this time at 59.
With the squads breathing down each other's backs entering the final phase, both teams played with an even more heightened sense of urgency. Short opened up the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer (62-59). Soon a rebound and a putback by Rhoomes lifted the squad by seven points, 66-59.
With about 3:10 left in the fourth quarter, Yacoubou sank another 3-pointer to close the gap to three points, 73-70.
Rich Soil regained the lead twice more before the one-minute mark. The last time, a high-flying dunk by Sledge put the exclamation point on the well-fought battle. The play put Sledge and company up by one point, 75-74. Another bucket by Sledge, with about 39 seconds left, gave Rich Soil a lightly padded three-point cushion, 77-74.
Due to Rich Soil's quick hands on defense and speedy execution on offense, the Panthers saw a double-digit advantage deteriorate over the course of about 16 minutes. Still, the Panthers maintained composure as it brought the game within two points, 77-76, with less than 30 seconds left in the game.
And, as time ticked away, Moore gave his team the game with a buzzer-beating bucket off the glass.
"We just had to keep our composure. We just had to go out there and play as a team and that's what we did," said Moore of how the team stayed focused down the stretch. "We just passed the ball very well, we scored very well and we have a good chemistry right now.""
Rich Soil's Trahson Burrell recorded 21 points (15 in the first half) in the losing effort.
The Panthers advance to play Raising Champions at 10 a.m. in the first iS8/Nike Spring H.S. Classic Quarterfinal on Sunday at the Queens, N.Y. location.
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