In a game in which every second counted, Jonathan Blue of Pittsburgh Project hit a buzzer-beating two-point shot to defeat the JCC, Thursday, Feb. 2, by a score of 51-49.
While Ben Katz of the JCC led all scorers with his 18 points and teammate Jesse Goleman added 17 points of his own, Blue also paced Pittsburgh Project with 17 points including his two game-winners.
“We have to move forward and we have to put it behind us,” JCC Head Coach Andy Pakler said. “This team has to play the rest of the season as hard as they possibly can. I think we dropped a couple of rankings tonight in the standings, so we’re going to battle the rest of the way.”
Pittsburgh Project, which lost its first meeting to the JCC earlier in the season, came out in the first quarter looking as though they had something to prove. They drilled shots from all over the court and made four three pointers to take a 16-10 lead at the end of the quarter.
In the second quarter, Pittsburgh Project continued the onslaught. Blue got into the act in this quarter, scoring nine points and giving his side a 26-16 lead at the half.
“His focus and his following the plays were very important and he needed to get the ball,” Pittsburgh Project Head Coach Lorenze Jefferson said. “He’s our best foul shooter, and when he gets to the rim, he scores and he draws fouls.”
The JCC picked up its play in the third quarter by stepping up its defensive effort. They pressured Pittsburgh Project, forcing some turnovers and a couple three-point plays from Goleman and Katz. This cut the lead to 31-28 midway through the quarter. But Pittsburgh Project maintained a 37-33 lead going into the final period.
“We went down at halftime and I talked about how it’s going to be effort in the second half that’s going to get you back into the game,” Pakler said. “We did in the third quarter, but the mistakes were just too much to overcome.”
Pittsburgh Project immediately drilled a trey to start the fourth quarter. The momentum changed though when Goleman nailed a three-point shot of his own to cut the lead down to four points. From there, the JCC came back and even took a 47-44 lead — its first since it led 4-3 early in the game.
Despite this, Pakler still felt that something was off and the disappointment of his team’s performance became apparent.
“We knew that even if we won that game, that we didn’t deserve to win it,” he said. “We didn’t play our best basketball. If we had gotten out of here with a win, it would have been a steal.”
The excitement mounted on both sides when it became clear that neither team was pulling away and the outcome of the game would come down to the final seconds.
The JCC had the ball with 6.4 seconds left in the game; however Katz threw the inbounds pass out of bounds giving Pittsburgh Project a chance to win.
The Project made the most of it.
“We tried to draw up something that had Jesse on the fly,” Pakler said. “We had him open, but Ben threw the ball too late and made a critical error by throwing it directly out of bounds, so they got to inbound right over there by the sideline, right near their basket. To be honest, that’s just the way that this game went. I knew that that ball was going to go in before they even inbounded it.”
Ultimately Blue’s hands were the last to touch the ball and as he drew closer to the basket, he shot the ball and began to fade away.
The ball rattled around the rim and went in as the buzzer sounded, and the Pittsburgh Project bench rushed the court in celebration.
The play went exactly how Jefferson drew it up during their timeout right before the play.
“Our starting guard needed to penetrate,” Jefferson said. He’s pretty good off of the ball, he needed to penetrate for a pick and roll to the basket for a winning shot in the last seconds.”
The loss now places the JCC at 9-2 on the season going into the final week. The team faced Auberle on the road Tuesday Feb. 7 and will host division leader and rival Career Connections on Thursday Feb. 9. The JCC lost their earlier match against Career Connections on Jan. 10.
(Zachary Weiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)