Norwich comeback falls short

SYRACUSE - Norwich failed to get off a game-winning shot attempt in the final 15 seconds, and its 2012-2013 season drew to a sorrowful close in a 59-58 loss to Westhill in the New York State Class B quarterfinals at Onondaga Community College’s SRC Arena Saturday night.

Down 44-28 to the Warriors midway through the third quarter, the Tornado mounted a prototypical second-half comeback, one similar to last year’s Section IV Class B title win over Chenango Valley. This time, however, NHS came up on the short end.

“We didn’t lose this game, we just ran out of time,” said Norwich coach Tom Collier, hoping to provide some solace for his players.

Norwich’s furious final 12 minutes nearly made up for Westhill’s superb first 20 minutes in which it seemed to have a firm grasp on the contest. The Warriors caught fire in the second quarter making 8 of 12 shots including a trio of threes. Reserve William Billy hit a pair of threes, and standout scorer Jordan Roland had eight of his 16 first-half points leading his club to a 35-23 advantage.

Westhill’s offense continued to produce easy baskets in the third against a Norwich defense that was completely out of sync. Tyler Reynolds and Kevin Karleski had back-to-back uncontested layups, the latter from Karleski drew a Norwich timeout with 3:49 to go. “To be honest, we were pretty sloppy on defense the first couple of quarters,” said Norwich senior Kyle Edwards, who said the Norwich bench coaches gave the players an ultimatum. “When we came to the bench, they told us it was now or never, and we can’t wait. We need to string together some stops and make some baskets.”

Norwich did just that, in part due to a defensive adjustment in which the NHS defenders were switching off of every Westhill screen. NHS junior guard Mike Sutton led the Norwich charge scoring eight points in a 10-0 run that had Norwich back within 44-38.

Roland, who finished with 27 points, stemmed the NHS momentum – briefly – converting a three-point play late in the stanza.

Norwich closed a nine-point deficit to start the final period down to 49-46 after Edwards’ drive to the bucket. Westhill, though, answered with a clutch six-point spurt of its own with Roland converting his own steal into a layup, Reynolds hit two free throws as did Jeff Lobello raising the advantage back to 55-46 with 3:47 to play.

That lead was far from safe.

Senior Grant Brightman put back an offensive rebound off Zan Stewart’s miss, the first two of Norwich’s final 12 points of the season. Edwards and Sutton alternated the next three buckets, all on drives, and Stewart spun off his man a stuck a jumper drawing Norwich to 59-56. Following a defensive stop, Sutton’s baseline jumper with 33 seconds left made it 59-58.

That is when things got interesting.

Roland brought the ball up court, but before he crossed the halfcourt line, Edwards poked the ball loose forcing a scramble on the floor. Roland and Edwards each dove on the ball, but a timeout was called by Westhill’s Lobello.The Warriors gained a reprieve, but possession was not secured by Roland as replays on Time Warner Cable would later show.

However, karma seemed to play into Norwich’s favor. Coming out of the timeout, Westhill’s inbounder had trouble finding a teammate, and Brightman picked up the steal at midcourt. Norwich quickly called a timeout – its last – to set up the final sequence.

“There were 16 seconds left and we had a couple of fouls to give, so we could be more aggressive,” said Westhill coach Kevin King. “We told the team, if nothing else, we’ve been a defensive team all season, and we needed to make a stop.”

Sutton took the inbounds pass, but was forced to pick up his dribble early. The ball was moved to the right side where it was poked loose from the Tornado’s Storm Cook. Norwich grabbed the ball, but a jump ball was called with 1.1 seconds left. Norwich set up a play to get Edwards the ball, but Sutton’s inbounds pass toward the basket was intercepted by Karleski as time expired.

“I believe if there were another 30 seconds on the clock, we win the game,” Collier said “All the credit in the world goes to Westhill. They outexecuted us at the end. I think anyone who saw this game knows there were two winners in this game, not one. Unfortunately only one team can move on, and we’ll be rooting for Westhill.”

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