While the Park School is playing an independent schedule in boys basketball, it’s easy to forget the Pioneers aren’t the same team that reached back-to-back New York State Federation Tournament of Champions from 2017 to '19 with star guard Noah Hutchins leading the charge.
They have talented players, but they're still getting acclimated to their roles while playing tough opponents.
Should Park wind up making another deep playoff run, it can perhaps look at Monday night’s thrilling comeback win over previously unbeaten Health Sciences in a battle between Buffalo News-ranked large schools as a turning point.
Junior Jalen Bradberry’s putback with 3.2 seconds gave the fourth-ranked Pioneers the lead for good as they edged the No. 2 Falcons, 58-57, before an overflow, standing-room only crowd in the Rich Activity Center.
Bradberry corralled the rebound of a missed 3-pointer by Desmond Davis and went up strong for the clincher. He and his teammates then watched as Jabari Spencer’s 23-footer for the win swished through the hoop for Health Sciences (15-1), except the basket failed to beat the final horn – giving the Pioneers (13-5) a chance to celebrate a victory in their home gym in their first game at Park in two months.
“They were denying me so we had to get it in quick,” Bradberry said of the winning play. “It touched all our players, kicked it to Desmond, we all crashed, luckily the rebound came to me and I finished. … We just came out, stayed aggressive, stayed poise and came out with the win.”
Those on hand Monday got their money’s worth and then some in a thoroughly entertaining affair. Health Sciences looked like a team with the potential to make a deep playoff run with its ability to play an unselfish game, provided it cleans up a few gaffes.
The fans also saw more than a sampling of the game-changing ability of Bradberry.
The 6-foot-4-inch returning second-team All-Western New York player scored 16 of his game-high 18 points during the second half with 10 coming during Park’s 24-point fourth quarter. With the Pioneers collectively struggling from 3-point range (1 for 19), Bradberry changed things by attacking the basket and using his leaping ability to give himself chances to score on putbacks. The Niagara Falls transfer scored six of his team’s final eight points via putback or layup.
“We lost two games in a row, I didn’t want to lose three in a row,” Bradberry said. “We had to do whatever we had to do to win the game.”
“Jalen is embracing the role of point guard,” winning coach Rich Jacob said. “Not only do we need him and his scoring, but he’s really worked on other aspects of the game. … Most importantly, he prepared himself to take on a floor-general role and I thought he did that tonight. … I think it’s finding and clarifying our roles.”
Health Sciences led 46-38 with 6:18 left after DaShaun Brown’s layup. Junior Keonjay Carter followed with a layup for Park to spark 20-11 closing run.
A basket interference call on a wild shot that had no chance of being made until a Falcons player anticipating a potential rebound grabbed nothing but rim, bringing the hosts closer. Bradberry’s layup with 2:35 left gave the Pioneers their first lead since 17-15 early in the second quarter. Bradberry then followed with a sweet fake dribble drive pull-up jumper to make it a four-point game.
Health Sciences, which had four players score in double figures, rallied as Ja’Vaughn Jones drained a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game with 1:05 left. After a layup from Carter (14 points, six assists), nice ball movement resulted in Tyler Smith making the game-tying shot while being fouled with 13.3 seconds left. He made the and-one free throw to set up the big finish.
Davis' shot from the corner hit the rim but Bradberry had his back.
Park returns to action at 7 p.m. Thursday at home against Section V’s Bishop Kearney.
“Important win for us at this point of the season. It was good to be back home,” Jacob said. “A challenging schedule, to get this win is very important going into the next couple of weeks.”
Jones and Smith each finished with 16 points, while Daciaire Riley had 13 for the Falcons, who next face No. 1 Canisius at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at the Centercourt Classic at Williamsville North.
“We just had a couple turnovers, missed a couple easy layups that I feel we should have made,” Falcons coach Tyree Parker said. “The best way to learn how to win is with a loss. We’ll learn from it and get ready for Canisius. ... The only way to get a fair evaluation of your team is to play the best. Today it didn't go our way.”