CUMBERLAND — It certainly looked as if improved Tolman High, which rolled into Cumberland’s Wellness Center late Wednesday afternoon with five victories in its previous seven tilts, would make it six-of-eight.
The Tigers also seemed destined to eke out a two- or three-point triumph over the Clippers, but head coach Gary Reedy’s crew had other plans.
With Tolman up, 61-60, and only nine ticks left on the scoreboard clock, senior center Jon Percy went to the charity stripe for a one-and-one. A free throw would virtually seal a win, but Percy missed, and senior guard Tom Lazaras ended up with the ball. He streaked down the right sideline, then fed classmate/center Dylan Boisclair stationed under the hoop.
The wide-open Clipper calmly laid it in at the buzzer, and he and his teammates immediately went ballistic, celebrating a wildly-entertaining, 62-61 Division II crossover triumph before perhaps 100 fans on their home floor.
While the two squads lined up for the traditional post-game handshakes, Tigers’ senior captain Mamour Samb protested that the scoreboard operator had hesitated to sound the horn before Boisclair’s pivotal bucket.
What ensued was a minor altercation, though Reedy and Tolman mentor Mike Kayata shook hands by the scorers’ table, then ordered their respective players to distant locker rooms.
With the victory, Cumberland improved to 15-2 overall and 10-2 in league action. The Tigers dropped to 6-9 overall and 5-7 in II-Central.
Lazaras paced the hosts with a team-leading 22 points, while Boisclair notched 12 of his 16 points in the opening session, and senior swing Ben Bradley posted the same amount.
Samb produced 23, 16 of those coming in the second half, while sophomore guard Steven Otis mustered 19 and Percy 11.
All seemed lost for Cumberland when senior co-captain Rob Reedy’s runner in the lane dripped out of the basket, and senior Greg Joubert quickly fouled Percy under the net.
But then came the miss, Lazaras’ quick reaction and the pass to Boisclair.
The Tigers had entered the final stanza ahead, 30-26, and held on to the lead early on, but the Clippers fought back to tie it twice more. Samb’s trey with 10:53 left to give the visitors a 43-40 cushion, though Cumberland manufactured a 15-5 flurry over the next 4:20 to grab a 55-48 advantage.
The rally started with Bosiclair’s short jumper and Lazaras three-pointer, and ended with a Lazaras feed to Joubert for the layup at the 6:33 mark that gave Cumberland the seven-point lead.
As it had previously, Tolman fought back again, though Boisvert’s 12-footer with 2:43 remaining pushed the advantage to 58-54. Sophomore guard Alex Lopez landed a scoop and was fouled, but failed to convert the conventional three-point play, and Bradley followed with a baseline hook to make it 60-56.
Samb netted a scoop layin at the 2:19 mark, then dropped a three-point bomb with 93 seconds left to give Tolman the lead at 61-60.
Actually, the Tigers surrendered an early 14-8 lead to Cumberland, but tightened their defense and found its scoring touch to create a 17-5 run midway through the initial half. All told, Otis netted three of his five treys in that span, and his last delivered to Tolman a 25-19 advantage with 3:51 left before the break.
The Clippers then surged, scoring seven straight points on a Boisclair baseline 10-footer, then a baseline hook and a Lazaras three-pointer to go up, 26-25, with 56 ticks remaining.
But Samb hit two foul shots with 19 ticks on the clock, then a three-pointer with two left to give the Tigers a 30-26 lead.
Surprisingly, Tolman finished with 23 turnovers (11 in the first half), but still kept it close. Cumberland finished with 14, but sealed the verdict in dramatic fashion.