Joel Hernandez made a heady decision to shoot a 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation and probably an even better one when he purposely drew contact on another long attempt as the first overtime period came to a close.
Good choices, without doubt, but perhaps not the best decisions of the weekend in matters relating to the talented junior guard.
Those were made by his doctor on Saturday morning and head coach Jerome Smart early Sunday afternoon when Hernandez was given clearance to play with his stitched-up right hand, bandaged and padded from a cut suffered last week in the locker room following a game.
Hernandez forced OT with his long trey from the right wing and ended it by hitting 2 of 3 from the foul line with one second remaining, carrying undefeated Teaneck to a thrilling 65-63 victory over St. Patrick in an MSG Varsity Top 15 matchup at the New Year's Jump-Off at Hackensack High.
"I knew I was gonna shoot it because by the time I got to where the rim was, I knew there wouldn't be enough time to pass it," Hernandez said of the 3-pointer that knotted the game at 53-53 for No. 5 Teaneck (7-0). "I just wanted to elevate and shoot it."
He rose high above his defender and drained the shot that answered a pair of free throws by Johnathan Williams of No. 11 St. Patrick (2-2) with five seconds to go and thwarted a bold rally effort by the Celtics.
St. Patrick gave itself another chance to win with the scrappy play of junior guard Darrian Collins in the final seconds of overtime. He tied the game at 60-60 on two free throws with 21 seconds to go, pulled the Celtics to within 62-61 on a free throw with 15 ticks remaining and tied it again at 63-63 with a coast-to-coast layup with six seconds to play.
Seconds later, Hernandez dribbled across the time line toward the left wing, spotted an aggressive defender and instantly utilized both brain and body.
"I saw the defender come right at me, so I just wanted to lean into him," Hernandez said. "I knew he was gonna foul me."
Hernandez looked smooth on his game-tying jumper, but admitted that the bandaged hand was a mild hindrance on his launches.
"It was kind of difficult (shooting) because the tape was giving me resistance," he said, "but I just wanted to attack the basket and put the ball in the basket."
That stirring result for Teaneck gave the Highwaymen their fourth victory this season over a solid non-public school, and a signature win against a household name like St. Patrick--even with Teaneck ranked higher at the time.
The significance was not lost on Teaneck, even though the state playoffs are still two months away.
"It's very big for the program," head coach Jerome Smart said. "It's the first time Teaneck has ever beaten St. Pat's since it's become the power it is. it’s definitely a big win for our program."
St. Patrick has a proud history of finding ways to win, even in unlikely situations, and the Celtics appeared to be riding the outstanding play of DeAndre Bembry toward yet another exciting upset.
The 6-6 junior emerged as a defensive force in the fourth quarter, blocking three of his four shots and also scoring four points and collecting a steal to help turn a 44-36 disadvantage into a 50-47 lead on his transition dunk off a steal with 2:54 left in the game.
"Right now he's a major college recruit," Smart said of Bembry. "He's difficult to guard because he's strong and athletic. He's able to use his athletic ability against Neville and his strength on the smaller guys. he causes a lot of problems, but I think we have guys who caused them problems, too."
Senior guard Chris Jones, one of the state's top performers over the first two weeks, stood out once again for Teaneck with 22 points, 10 rebounds and six steals. He pumped in eight points in the fourth period, the last three on a long jumper from the left wing to pull the Highwaymen to within, 51-50, with 10.6 seconds remaining.
Teammate Shakir Lindsey, a junior point guard, tossed in 14 points, five coming in the overtime period, and also had six assists. Perhaps his biggest play of the game came off a steal and layup out of fullcourt pressure to give Teaneck a 60-58 lead with 41 seconds left on OT.
"Those are three of the four guys who were here last year and they've been through the wars," Smart said. "They're the ones we expect to step up. That's why we put the ball in their hands and see what happens."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS