Just completed a Friday night watching two outstanding games: both three-point victories by the visiting team as two league rivals -- and top 10 teams -- got together.
My first stop was at No. 6 large school Riverside as I watched No. 2 Grover Cleveland survive with a 73-70 victory to remain undefeated in the Yale Cup.
I walked in and saw that Grover had a 4-3 lead, so I figured I didn't miss much. Turns out I did: I was told that Grover standout Anthony Greene opened the game by throwing down a monster dunk in traffic. Lucky for me, there was plenty more to come.
Grover had an 11-point lead in the second quarter and was up 14 in the third, but the Presidents are a team which tends to let teams back into games. Riverside, in the other hand, is a team that never thinks it is out of a game. That lead to an amazing fourth quarter, one in which I was struggling to keep my notebook scribbling up with the game.
For about two minutes in the fourth quarter, the teams literally went back and forth, alternating baskets on just about every series with no whistles, no turnovers and no time to catch your breath. There could have been a little better transition defense -- particularly by Riverside -- but there's no questioning that it was one entertaining stretch.
After Tyshawn Edwards hit two free throws to tie the game at 56-56 with 6:22 left, it was a basket for Riverside followed by a basket for Grover. The action only stopped when Riverside called timeout having tied the game at 64-64 with 4:11 to go.
Grover's Anthony Greene had three of the President's baskets, including a one-handed stuff. Riverside's Eric Baylor, who had an outstanding game with 25 points, attacked the rim and scored on a bank shot, then had a great find of Ira Watkins for a layup. Next it was Ajay Hopson driving the baseline and dishing to Justin Stokes. The run ended with another sweet Baylor driving bank shot.
The final minutes were outstanding, with Grover's perfect season on the line and Riverside's fans providing an excellent -- and loud -- atmosphere from the balcony seating above the court. Isaiah Jefferson of Riverside typified his team's effort with pure hustle in the final minutes -- he dove on the floor to knock the ball loose from Greene in the backcourt, which led to a Stokes layup and a 66-64 lead with about 3:15 to go.
Riverside would last be in control after a Jefferson tip-in gave the Frontiers a 68-65 lead with about two minutes left. From there, Grover came up with the rest of the big plays. Tyshawn Edwards had a steal and layin with 1:30 left to put the Presidents up, 71-68, although Watkins came right back by scoring in the lane.
Neither team scored until the final seconds of the game. Grover was inbounding the ball under its own basket with :13 left when Riverside nearly took it away. Three defenders pressured Greene into nearly turning the ball over, but from the seat of his pants he managed to get the ball to Edwards on the other side of the backcourt. Edwards found Chris Holland at mid-court, and he found a streaking Anthony Caba for a layup and the 73-70 final. Riverside was unable to get a clean look at a three in the final seconds.
It was Grover's first real test since losing to Niagara Falls, and despite giving up those big leads, it showed a level-headedness in the final minutes. Riverside is a great team to watch: hard-working and talented. Hopson, Baylor and Stokes all have three-point range, a great first step and a knack for finishing off the toughest of drives. They will certainly be a team to watch in the AA bracket in a few weeks.
From there, I zipped up to Cardinal O'Hara, where senior night festivities meant I didn't miss a thing. The two top 10 small schools (Niagara Catholic is No. 9; O'Hara is No. 10) played, as expected, a tight game throughout with Niagara Catholic winning, 68-65.
O'Hara had a 52-46 lead entering the fourth quarter and held off the Patriots until there was a little more than a minute to go, as A.J. Roberts made a great pass to find an open Josh Puzan for a layup to tie the score at 63-63. From there it turned into a foul-shooting contest; actually, it turned out to be a foul shooting contest for Roberts. The senior went 5 for 6 from the line in the final 26 seconds, including back-to-back, 2-for-2 trips that put Niagara Catholic up, 67-63, with 11.5 seconds to go.
Dyrell Dolson was a force underneath all game. He came back in with 4:44 to go with four fouls and had five of the Patriots' next nine points. He and Roberts also had several nice passes throughout the night.
James Ewing was also strong inside on his senior night, never more than on two-handed dunk in the lane off an inbounds play to start the second half. Ewing also had a superb block on a driving Patriot in the third quarter. Sophomore point guard Keon Briggs played some terrific ball, hitting three points and quickly penetrating the lane for drives or dishes to open teammates.
Both teams appear to be playing very well heading into the final stretch of the season and both should be very tough outs in the Manhattan Cup playoffs.
Be sure to check out all the scores from a very busy Friday night in boys basketball and get more information in Saturday's Buffalo News.