GROTON — Southern Cayuga’s Nathan Thurston hit a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer to spoil Groton’s comeback and silence the home crowd as the Chiefs walked out with a 58-56 victory Thursday night.
The action leading up to the play as time expired was intense and the crowd and players were overflowing with emotion.
Groton hung around all game, but trailed Southern Cayuga from the end of the first quarter all the way up until 1:35 remained in regulation when Mason Slade got a steal and found Austin Hunt in transition to put the Indians up 52-51.
The Chiefs would respond with a quick bucket from Brandon Vanacore to reclaim the lead with 1:18 left.
After an Indians miss, the Chiefs had the ball with a chance to increase their lead, but a miss on a wide-open jumper from Isaac Brozon was rebounded by the Indians’ Hunt, who found a wide-open Owen Crispell on an outlet pass for a layup and the Indians were back up 54-53 with 26 seconds left.
The Chiefs called a timeout after dribbling the ball into the half-court to set up a play on the baseline with 19 seconds left. Thurston was the inbound passer, and after the throw-in, he made an excellent backdoor cut for the easy layup to once again give the Chiefs the lead, 55-54 with 12 seconds left.
The Indians pushed the ball up and found Kanye Israel, who made a tough, contested layup to put Groton back in front, 56-55, with five seconds remaining.
All the Indians needed was a stop and the comeback would be complete, but the Chiefs and Thurston had other ideas.
After a quick timeout with 2.6 seconds left, the ball was to be inbounded on the side opposite the team’s bench. Thurston already had a big night with 21 points, so he was the guy to keep an eye on for the Indians’ defense. Thurston found himself open, created just enough space off the dribble and hit the contested 3-pointer as the horn sounded right in front of the Groton home crowd.
“We knew he was a shooter,” Groton head coach Ken Updike said. “We thought maybe they were going to set something up for him on the other side of the floor. I had the board out and I was going to take a timeout and talk about where he was. I thought my guy knew where the ball was going, his pinky just needs to be another centimeter longer because he was right there.”
Despite the loss, the game was a bright spot in the eyes of Updike, who knows his team has been struggling to score, but did much better against the Chiefs.
“The kids play hard; there is no question about that,” Updike said. “We have been struggling to score the basketball but we did a better job tonight. We did a much better job moving the basketball and finding open shots. From a coaching standpoint, we wanted to play a little faster on offense, which I think we did. Those are things we are working on.”
Benjamin DeMatteo led the way for the Indians with 14 points, Omari Riley-Israel had 11 points Hunt had 10 and Kanye Israel added eight.
“Next up for the Indians, they will head to Tully for the Black Knight Holiday Classic on Dec. 29 where they will face an opponent to be determined.
BOYS BASKETBALL FULTON
67, TULLY 40
Tully trailed by only one after the first quarter but struggled the remainder of the game. The Black Knights only scored 13 points in the second half.
BISHOP LUDDEN 72, HOMER 46
Gracie Patriarco’s 31 points were not enough for the Trojans, who struggled in the first half and could not climb their way back.
DRYDEN 32, WATKINS-GLEN 30
In a back-and-forth defensive game, the Lions came out with the win.
“The final minute of the game went on for several minutes and could have gone either way,” Lions head coach Lazlo Engel said.
Lauren Gulini had 12 points, and Sindi Pinckney had eight points while hitting the go-ahead free throw with 30 seconds remaining.