The N.Y. Panthers (1) met the N.J. Trailblazers (Jersey City, N.Y.) on Saturday at the iS8/Nike Spring High School Classic in the last contest of pool play.
The two squads came into the matchup undefeated, vying for the top spot in the Mideast division. However, as is the case with any basketball game, there had to be a loser.
This time, one of the Big Apple's perennial powerhouse AAU programs, the N.Y. Panthers (3-1) took the "L" in the record books, 87-80, as the N.J. Trailblazers (4-0) remained perfect in the come-from-behind victory.
After picking up two technical fouls for boisterously arguing with an official and being ordered to leave the gym early in the game, the N.J. Trailblazers' head coach gestured for his teammates to leave with him (which would have resulted in a forfeit) - a scene he would later regret, giving a classy apology and citing bad news he had just received about a family member as the reason for his behavior.
Not ready to throw in the towel, the Trailblazers went on with another coach at the helm.
Although the out-of-state squad trailed the Panthers, it remained within striking distance. With some hard work from Jeremy Schulkin (18 points), the lead would shift in favor of the Trailblazers. The New Jersey team was able to hold an advantage of three points, 33-30, before Panthers' Mike Taylor (14 points) nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game.
Deonte Houston (25 points, 16 in the second half) and Taylor would keep the Panthers ahead of the Trailblazers, digging them a five-point hole, 42-37, at half.
In the third quarter, the N.J. Trailblazers were able to knot the contest at 49, but the Panthers were back at it, leading by as much as eight points, 65-57. Trailblazers' Josh Treadwell (18 points) sank two-of-two from the charity stripe to cut the deficit to six, 65-59, before the close of the tertiary period.
A floater by Schulkin early in the fourth and final phase would narrow the margin further to five points, 66-61. Feeling the cross-border rival closing in, the N.Y. Panthers used a mini surge to squeeze an eight-point differential between the squads for some breathing room. Despite trailing 71-63, Trailblazers' Schulkin, who got in the paint for lay-ins, boards and second-chance opportunities, helped sharply slash the Panthers lead to only three points, 77-74, following some buckets by New York's Fordham-bound Jeffrey Short (17 points) and Hofstra-commit Malik Nichols (15 points).
A bucket by Houston would later lift the Panthers to a five-point advantage, 80-75, but James Matthews (10 points) was pure from the free throw line on a two-of-two performance to keep within a possession, 80-77.
On the Panthers' next possession, Matthews stole the ball from Short near halfcourt and scored in transition to bring his N.J. Trailblazers within a point, 80-79. Another hot possession by Matthews, got him the bucket and an extra opportunity at the stripe. After completing the conventional three-point play, New Jersey staged a lead change and were up by two points, 82-80, with 42 seconds remaining in the game.
The N.J. Trailblazers, impassioned by the tough comeback, stayed focused and did not let up on the Panthers on either end of the floor. As a result, the Panthers, plagued with empty possessions, slipped away on a seven-point, slippery slope, punctuated by an emphatic dunk by Schulkin as time expired.
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