Cathedral boys basketball coach Jamall Griffin emphasized the need for a difficult challenge as he and his staff prepared for the season a few months back. Despite having one of the youngest varsity rosters (10 underclassmen) in the MIAA ranks, the Panthers proceeded to play one of the toughest schedules in the Commonwealth.
It became clear Monday why they opted to put themselves in such a position. Anthony Vick (16 points) drilled the eventual game-winning three-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation as eighth-seeded Cathedral erased a 10-point fourth quarter deficit en route to beating No. 9 Manchester-Essex, 50-47, in the Div. 4 Round of 16.
“We played a tough schedule,” said Griffin. “All those moments and all those losses have prepared us for tonight. So, when we were down, we said: ‘We’ve been here before.’ We just played one possession at a time.”
The game got off to a slow start, with both programs struggling to find a rhythm. Then junior standout Cade Furse caught fire for the Hornets (18-4), racking up nine points to go with five steals over the first two quarters as Manchester-Essex built a comfortable 28-17 advantage by the break.
Yet for some reason or another, it just never felt as though the Panthers (12-10) were completely out of it.
“We just kept playing together, kept working,” Vick said. “We were down early in the first half. We talked at halftime, knowing that we had to keep fighting, keep going.”
Cathedral began implementing a full-court press during the second quarter, and decided to keep it rolling to start the third. The Panthers trimmed their deficit as close as 30-27 midway through the frame, before Manchester-Essex capped the stanza on a 10-3 scoring run to make it a 40-30 game entering the fourth.
Then, Cathedral began to mount its comeback. The Panthers opened the quarter on a 5-0 run to slice it back to a 40-35 game. With 4:11 left, Vick knocked down a game-tying three as Cathedral evened the score at 42.
After Brennan Twombly hit 1-of-2 free throws to provide Manchester Essex a 47-45 lead with 43.1 seconds remaining, the teams traded possessions as the fans roared. Following a wild sequence, the Panthers gained control of the ball, and Vick soon found himself standing with the rock alone in the corner with just under 20 seconds to play.
He pulled up and unleashed the most important shot of his life. Cathedral had seized its first lead of the night at 48-47.
“A lot of emotions were going through my head,” said Vick. “I knew if I missed, we’d have to foul. But thank God I made it, and we came out with the win.”
The Hornets had a few opportunities to tie the game or take the lead on their next few possessions. Twombly missed a pair of free throws, but the ball skipped off a Cathedral player and out of bounds with 6.5 seconds remaining. The Hornets fed a pass to Furse for a contested triple, but the shot rimmed out, and Manchester-Essex was forced to foul.
With 2.7 seconds left, eighth-grader Jeremiah Brown stepped to the free throw stripe, sinking a pair to make it a 50-47 contest. The Hornets frantically inbounded the ball to Furse, who launched a prayer from midcourt.
“I was nervous,” said Vick. “Because that kid can shoot. Props to him, he can shoot the ball very well. So when he let that off, I was nervous. I thought it was going in.”
But he ball fell harmlessly to the floor, and the Panthers stormed the court in pandemonium.
In addition to Vick’s heroics, sophomore Kyle Benjamin finished with a team-high 18 points to pace Cathedral, while senior Ali Saleh racked up 10 rebounds for the Panthers.
“This young group really stepped up,” said Griffin. “They grew up tonight. I’m very proud of them. The Cathedral School, the community, Boston, everyone came out and supported. This was a great night for Boston basketball, not just Cathedral.”