It’s a good thing for the tournament’s profit sheet that spectators for the game between Gill St. Bernard’s and Plainfield were charged full price regardless of their locale in the building and not by how much of their seat was actually occupied.
Because for the entire span of this 36-minute skirmish, pretty much the only part of the seats being utilized were the edges.
This showdown between two of the state’s top teams seized the attention of some 1,600 fans early in the contest with the fierce jostling for space inside between Gill’s Dominic Hoffman and Plainfield’s Justin Sears and the eye-popping shooting range of Alex Mitola, who nailed eight 3-pointers and had 30 points. And this riveting game did not let anyone out of its grips until the final buzzer sounded.
Senior guard Sekou Harris forced overtime on a driving layup with 10 seconds to go and fed Diijon Allen-Jordan underneath with four seconds left in overtime to lift Plainfield to a 78-77 victory at the PrimeTime Shootout before a delirious, sellout crowd at the PrimeTime Shootout Sunday afternoon at the Roselle Catholic gym in Roselle.
Plainfield (18-3), No. 6 in The MSG Varsity Top 15, erased a 77-72 deficit in the final 1:00 of overtime to snap a 17-game winning streak for No. 3 Gill St. Bernard’s (19-2) and climb its way back into the conversation as one of the state’s premier teams.
“We knew they were a (nationally ranked) Top 25 teams,” Harris said. “We had two shots at Top 25 teams (losses to St. Anthony and St. Benedict’s), and we just wanted to make our names known and try to crack the Top 25.”
If the Cardinals ever do gain such recognition, they can look back to this moment when they didn’t crack under the intense pressure of a raucous audience, the sublime perimeter shooting of Mitola (8 of 10 on treys) and a pair of five-point deficits, in the fourth quarter and OT.
“The kids played hard for the full game. They were competitors and never gave in on plays,” Gill St. Bernard’s coach Mergin Sina said. “But (Plainfield) grinded it out with us the whole way and pulled out. They played a heckuva game.”
Senior swing Jahmal Lane scored 22 points and took down 11 rebounds and triggered the overtime rally with a hard-fought putback with 1:00 to go. Harris made a steal 33 seconds later and sank two free throws after being fouled to bring Plainfield to within 77-76, and Gill traveled with 20 seconds remaining to give Plainfield a chance without the need to foul.
Harris, who closed with 20 points, dribbled into the lane and pulled up for an expected jumper, but instead dished to Allen-Jordan (16 points, 15 rebounds) under the basket. The 6-5 senior elevated with full extension and dropped in a two-hander with four seconds to go. Gill St. Bernard’s was unable to launch a game-winning shot before the buzzer sounded.
“With that much time left, the only thing I could do was go to the basket,” Allen-Jordan said. “I met the ball at the basket and couldn’t do nothing else besides go straight up.”
Allen-Jordan fully expected the hot-handed Harris to shoot, as did Plainfield head coach Jeff Lubreski, probably most of the fanes and even Harris himself.
“I was looking to shoot,” Harris said. “I saw Diijon at the last minute when I jumped. I knew Diijon would finish, so I gave it to him.”
As sure as Allen-Jordan was that Harris would shoot, he did not abandon the basic principle of interior play: When you flash into the paint, be ready to receive the ball until you actually see it in flight.
“Sekou’s like my brother; we have that instinct,” Allen-Jordan said. “We do it in practice every day, and either he’s going to shoot or he’d going to drop it. If he drops it I’m gonna catch it and go right up to the rim.”
That surprised Lubreski, who was so sure Harris would go up, he might be expecting a different outcome once he reviews the film.
“When he dribbled in, I said. “Oh, he’s got the pull-up. I’m going to take a 10-footer here and win,’ “ Lubreski said. “The he saw Diijon. That’s the experience. They’ve played together so often. It was good execution, good poise down the stretch.”
In order to have the chance to show its composure in that wild final minute of OT, Plainfield first had to take care of late business in regulation.
Allen-Jordan hit one of two free throws after being fouled on a drive to bring the Cardinals to within 68-64 with 47 seconds to go. He narrowed it to one on a putback six seconds later and hauled in a rebound off a missed free throw by Gill with 20 ticks remaining. Allen-Jordan fed Harris, who drove to the hoop with 10 seconds left to know the score at 68-68.
Allen-Jordan erupted for 14 of his 16 points after the first half, though played an important role in the first 16 minutes with seven defensive rebounds. As well as Gill St. Bernard’s shoots (11 threes in the game), any form of prevention for second opportunities can be considered a small victory.
“We talked about this before the game,” Lubreski said. “They’re going to make some shots that we’re not used to seeing. They’re a tough team.”
Mitola’s range on his rainbow jumpers reaches way beyond tough and more into the area of un-guardable. Sina has deep range, as well, which he displayed when he sank three straight during a 2:05 stretch in the third quarter. Mitola buried two from way out to spark a 15-7 move that put Gill in front, 68-63 with 55 seconds to go in regulation.
What do you possibly do against guys who can shoot from 24, 25 feet without strain?
“Hope they miss,” Harris said. “They can shoot, so when the ball’s in the air, all you can do is hope they miss and try to contest the best you can.”
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS