By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
PLEASANTVILLE — Everybody in the gym knew St. Joseph guard Marcellus Ross was going to take the last shot for St. Joseph. The visiting Wildcats trailed Pleasantville, 68-67, and Ross had scored 25 points already. He did take the last shot — and missed a runner in the lane — but teammate Ron Gaskins was there for a tip-in.
The Greyhounds had one final shot at a victory when Mike Wilson drove the length of the court, but his short jumper hit off the front of the iron, and St. Joseph held on for a 69-68 victory — its 11th of the season against just two losses.
“We had a starter hurt his knee the other day, and another starter in foul trouble. We had a couple JV kids get legitimate minutes and they kept it together. I’m very proud of that. It was just a crazy game,” said Wildcats coach Paul Rodio Jr. “Pleasantville, man, they are always good. Coach (Butch) Warner, he really is a good coach, a tough coach, and they don’t quit. They were down early and came back. I told our guys that nothing I say is going to matter unless we come meet our passes. We had to get stronger on the ball. I felt like we could have won by more than just a tip-in at the end, but a win is a win — and, trust me, we’ll take it. We’re 11-2 and we probably had five or six games like that. We let one get away the other day, so we needed a win going into a big one at Wildwood Catholic.”
St. Joseph was coming off a 63-60 loss to Schalick on Tuesday, and travels to Wildwood Catholic next Wednesday in a matchup of the two top teams in the Cape-Atlantic League’s United Conference, so the Wildcats (11-2, 4-0) needed this win to stay in front of Wildwood Catholic (6-4, 3-1 heading into Friday). Several times in the first half, St. Joseph built a lead, but Pleasantville rallied each time. Senior Malik Morgan stole an inbounds pass in the waning seconds of the first quarter, drove the lane and threw down a vicious slam dunk as time expired in the quarter to tie the game, 17-17. He finished with a team-high 25 points. Morgan was coming off a 30-point performance in Pleasantville’s 65-55 win over Cape May Tech on Wednesday.
“Ron Gaskins, we thought he could match (Morgan’s) athleticism, but that kid is tough,” Rodio said. “He closes the (first) quarter with a dunk. They are a tough team, and I would not want to play them more than twice.”
“I felt energized, especially because last game, against Cape May Tech, I had 30 points,” Morgan said. “I just came into this game focused and with high expectations. I feel like we just need a little bit more heart. Once we get that, we’ll be a playoff team.”
St. Joseph took a 32-27 lead into halftime, but Pleasantville (5-4, 2-2) responded with a big third quarter and Jacob Valeus nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner at the buzzer to give the Greyhounds a 54-52 lead. But St. Joseph cut the deficit to 61-60 with a couple of buckets midway through the fourth quarter, and a 3-pointer from Ross put the Wildcats back on top, 63-61. Just as quickly, Pleasantville regained the lead, as Divine Anderson answered with a three of his own to give the Greyhounds a 65-63 lead. A three by Ross and a free throw gave St. Joseph a 67-64 lead, but again Pleasantville answered, as Valeus drained a game-tying 3-pointer with 1:09 left.
Pleasantville took a 68-67 lead when Wilson hit 1-of-2 from the line with 27 seconds left, setting up the final two frantic possessions.
Ross led the Wildcats with 25 points, including six 3-pointers, while Gaskins added 15 points and Corey Blackwell chipped in with 13. Wilson added 14 points for Pleasantville and Anderson finished with 17.
“Right now, even though our record is 5-4, we still play at the highest level we can. We feel like we can match up with any team. Whenever we go out on the court, we always play to the best of our abilities,” Morgan said. “(My teammates) have come a long way. At practice, we go hard. Our coach always tells us not to play soft and to stay aggressive, so we get on each other all day, every day at practice so that we can get better every day.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN