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Nazareth suffered another piercing blow in its season of close calls.
A baseline three-pointer by St. Ignatius senior forward Melvin Pierce at the buzzer gave the visiting Wolfpack (15-8) a 48-45 win over the Roadrunners (10-11) in Tuesday’s non-conference contest.
“Melvin is a good 3-point shooter,” Wolfpack coach Rich Kehoe said. “He could hit them when he was a little kid in sixth grade in our summer camp.”
“The coaches drew up a good play, Connor (Cronin) got the ball and passed it to the corner and we executed it well,” Pierce said. “This win was very important for us, knowing that they’re in our sectional.”
The buzzer beater marked the lone field goal of the game for Pierce (five points, three rebounds), as he calmly drilled the open look off a pass from the top of the key by Cronin (who led St. Ignatius with 12 points).
“Riley (Doody) got me the ball at the top of the key, and I saw Melvin to my left,” Cronin said. “I was thinking about taking one dribble and going up, but I drew a second defender. Melvin’s a great three-point shooter so I passed it to him and I knew it was going to go in.”
Led by Kevin Connelly (12 points, nine rebounds), John Bonk (10 points) and Tim Kuckailis (nine points, six rebounds), Nazareth overcame the absence of injured 7-footer Tyler Jackson to nearly pull the upset.
“That (Jackson’s absence) was big,” Connelly said. “They’re a small team and we thought we could pound it down low to him. We missed him today.”
Nazareth answered the challenge by leading much of the way until a 10-2 St. Ignatius run to end the third quarter put the Wolfpack up 33-32. A Connelly three-pointer with 18.3 seconds left drew Nazareth into a 45-all tie, but a turnover off an inbounds pass with 2.9 seconds left set up St. Ignatius’ dramatic winner.
The defeat at the buzzer added to a string of close setbacks against quality foes like Marist (last Friday) and Notre Dame.
“Our schedule is pretty tough,” Connelly said, “but we’re right there with all of the teams we’ve played so far. I know we’re going to turn it around and get some W’s here.”
Bill Langhenry (eight points, eight rebounds), Lester Larry (seven points) and Doody (six points, three steals) were other standouts Tuesday for a quickly maturing St. Ignatius squad.
“Our top eight graduated from last year, so we’ve had to replace the entire team,” Kehoe said. “And we only have three seniors on the team. But we play summer and fall leagues, and my whole thinking would be that they would get their experience in the summer and fall.”
The Wolfpack now sets its sights on the next big goal.
“We have a game against St. Joe’s Friday and still are in contention for the Catholic League championship,” Cronin said. “This is a huge win to get our spirits up for that.”
As for Pierce, does Tuesday’s buzzer beater rank as the big moment of his basketball career?
“As of right now,” he said with a smile. “But I think there will be more later.”