Dekorey Wright walked aimlessly off the court, his hands on his head and a look of stunned disbelief on his face. Garon Senior crumpled to the floor, not wanting his career at Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy (RKA) to be over. Will Feldman and his Tigers teammates simply slumped on the bench, heads in their hands and all wondering how it all went so wrong at the end.
RKA had everything going its way last Friday. The Tigers, the No. 7 seed in the Public School Athletic League (PSAL) ‘B’ playoffs, were hosting the 26th-seeded High School of Economics and Finance (HSEF) Panthers, were playing in front of a boisterous packed house and owned a commanding 14-point lead with under six minutes to play in their postseason opener. Everything was lined up perfectly for RKA—and then the bottom dropped out on their championship hopes.
Somehow it all came apart for the normally poised Tigers down the stretch as several costly turnovers and some poor shot selection led to a 27-12 spurge by the Panthers to close out the game as RKA saw its season come to an end in a 56-55 heartbreaker. The Panthers move on to the second round of the PSAL playoffs while RKA finishes its season at 15-3, with two of those losses coming by a single point.
“I thought at times we were good. We had everything from a seven- to 10- to a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter,” RKA coach John Reingold said. “I think we let [Justin Mack] get away from us a little bit and you saw we had three really bad turnovers with under a minute to go. Those were costly because they immediately resulted with them getting to the [foul] line or getting a bucket. But give them credit, they were gutty and they took advantage of our mistakes. We unfortunately put them in position to take one from us.”
Mack was a force for the Panthers as he made 13 of his 18 shot attempts and finished with a game-high 24 points to go along with a team-best eight rebounds.
All seemed to be going RKA’s way when Senior sank one of two free throws to put the Tigers up, 43-29, with 5:55 to play. Even when the Panthers made a bit of a run, pulling within, 53-45, with just 1:18 to play, it seemed RKA would hold on despite some shaky play down the stretch.
But a layup by Darien Davis pulled HSEF to within six points and after an RKA turnover led to a layup by Christoff Layne, RKA’s lead was just 53-49 with 41 seconds to play. A pair of free throws by Wright seemed to stop the bleeding for the Tigers as their lead grew to 55-49 with 36.5 seconds to play. But those would be the final points RKA would score and when Mack completed a three-point play with 15.9 seconds left, the Panthers had a 56-55 lead, their first and only lead of the game.
All that was left for the Tigers to do was ponder how it all got away at the end.
“They were blaming themselves, not each other,” said Reingold, whose players were too upset to talk after the game. “Will [Feldman] took it very hard and I said, ‘Don’t you dare hold your head down. Nobody here is to blame for this.’ Hey we had a great season and it was a pleasure coaching this group. I’m a firm believer that there is a lesson here. I feel bad for the seniors. They won’t be back so this was like their sendoff. I wished them the best and I wish I could have done a little bit more for them. Life can be bittersweet and sometimes it’s bitter, and this was bitter.”