JAMAICA, NY - These games can't be good for Lawrence "Bud" Pollard's blood pressure. But even he had to smile when that buzzer sounded.
"These guys don't like doing it the easy way," Coach Pollard said after his Jefferson Orange Wave slipped by an unyielding and constant threat in Wings Academy, 72-68. "I try to just sit down and keep myself calm."
It was hard to sit down during this one. And that's saying something for a Jefferson team that's gone to overtime three times this season and had at least seven games decided by five points or less. But when you've got the self-dubbed "Mr. Fourth Quarter" (aka Thaddeus Hall) on the floor, you have something to ease the pandemonium...somewhat. Then again, Mr. Fourth Quarter may not strike until there's ten seconds left to play, prolonging your suffering as a coach. As a player, it's not an ideal sedative for the nerves either.
"I don't like these close games," said Hall, who scored 22 points, five of which came in that final ten seconds of action and pulled the rug from underneath a sterling player in Justin Jenkins and a Wings team that had the O-Wave on the verge of drowning. Hall may not like them, but he's again delivered a crunch time performance that will go down as one of the season's best.
Misfiring from long range and shooting poorly from the stripe (Jefferson shot a rigid 3-8 in the fourth quarter) the preceding 31:53 wasn't exactly vintage Hall. In fact, he was outplayed by Jenkins, whom he had to guard in the second half. The crafty point guard single-handedly put Wings on the board, scoring 12 of Wings' first 13 points of the game. But it wasn't until he got some help that the Bronx squad began to give Jefferson some problems. Trailing 22-13 and with shooting guard Marvilio Berroa in early foul trouble, Wings began to make some noise by way of junior wing Jaequan Brown (19 points). A terror in the open floor, Brown arose as a second option and forward Steven Gomez (12 points) stepped up as a third. The trio gave Jefferson trouble for the remainder of the game, and Brown drew first blood when he took Hall off the dribble to tie it at 25. With Jenkins scoring a game high 23 points, dishing, and taking charges in an MVP-like performance that was only overshadowed by Hall's late game heroics, Wings hung around. No big deal - Jefferson's opponents always hang around. But it was evident that Wings wouldn't be like everyone else.
"I was off with my shot, so I had to [reciprocate] on defense," said Hall, who jawed back and forth with Jenkins in a game that was growing more intense by the second. Both Hall and his back court mate Jaquan Lynch had their moments, but something grandiose would be needed to pull out of what had become a six point hole, 42-36. Someone would have to prevent this from getting too far out of reach, but before one could complete that thought, Lynch made his usual third quarter cameo.
"[Junior shooting guard] Nazai Stokes told me to turn it up," said Lynch, who had three fouls at the time. "He's never had to tell me that and today he did, so I knew I had to get more aggressive."
Lynch's shooting barrage (which gave him 16 points for the game) came on time and by third quarter's end, Jefferson was back on top, 50-48. It would usually be smooth sailing after the second half run, but Wings slammed the brakes on that thought and forced Jefferson to find other answers. Brown and Gomez kept pushing for Wings and with 90 seconds left to play, Jenkins scored his last points of the game with a kiss off the window to put Wings up, 67-64. The Batman and Robin of Hall and Lynch wasn't going to save the O-Wave this time. There had to be help, a team effort.
"We call him 'Big Shot Naz'," said Lynch of Stokes, who scored 13 points and nailed a handful of key threes. But none was bigger than his triple with 51 seconds left to make it a 68-67 game. The theme of team effort continued. What could realistically be called the game changing play was a defensive one from Jermoine "Flirt" Faison - a charge on Brown that gave him his fifth foul and sent him to the bench for good.
"[Brown's] shot went in, so if [Faison] didn't take that charge the right way and he got a blocking foul, that would've been ugly," said Hall. The offensive foul call and loss of a spark plug seemingly took the life out of Wings. It also put Hall in the perfect spot for heroics. And man did he have some.
The fearless senior scurried the length of the court sporting a determined scowl. He drove through defenders like a man possessed and went toward the hoop for a lay-up. And just like that, Jefferson took the lead. And one.
Wings had one last chance to re-write the Jefferson comeback script, but Hall called the network and cancelled that thought, too. The trap on Jenkins allowed "Mr. Fourth Quarter" to become "Mr. Last Second," as he stripped the ball from the talented guard and dunked it at the buzzer. Next stop: MSG, where a not so bashful Boys & Girls awaits to defend their PSAL title. Lynch has words for next Saturday's opponent, whom he heard was trash talking a bit. In fact, B&G's Leroy "Truck" Fludd was rumored to have already guaranteed a win.
"Tell 'Truck' to beep his horn," said Lynch with a grin. "Because we're coming."
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