By Tim Yean, TSM PRESIDENT
(CRANSTON, R.I.) - With Cranston East sitting at 2-5 in Division I prior to tonight’s matchup and Central sitting near the top of the state with a 6-1 record, it would be hard to imagine East would be competitive in this scenario, especially with key senior players Will Outar and Sean Pena out.
However, what occurred instead was a back-and-forth affair in what was one of the most exciting games this high school basketball season. East kept up toe-to-toe with the Knights, but devastating misses at the line and poor ball control during the fourth quarter had them down two in the final seconds, and East failed to capitalize with the opportunities given to them at the end.
Senior Davien Barry opened up the game for East with a fastbreak layup to jump the ‘Bolts out early with a 2-0 lead. Delwin Montan turned it into his show four minutes into the game, dominating inside the paint with six points before the Central timeout at 3:53 to go in the first, with East up 9-4. Montan would have 10 points by the end of the first quarter.
Central’s first quarter was highlighted by Jayden Livent, scoring the majority of the Knights’ points and knocking down multiple three-pointers to keep Central in the game.
After a Steven Jaquez score from inside to bring it to 15-14, a string of passes by East led to a Jaden Quiamco score in the paint to extend the lead to 17-14 in the last seconds of the first quarter.
Jaquez would get going in the second quarter, using the free throw line and his skills inside to create a 5-0 run for Central and have them up 21-17. The Central big man would continue to see success in the second quarter, having nine points overall by the end of the second quarter, and eleven overall by halftime.
After going scoreless in the first quarter, Naz Milien also woke up, displaying why he’s one of the top scorers in the state with a nine-point quarter, forcing a foul at the three-point line, draining all three free throws, and following up with two threes from the left wing.
With lead changes occurring constantly throughout the second quarter, the game was finally tied at 34-34 with 13 seconds to go, with the Knights having possession following a turnover by East. Silent throughout the period, Livent drained a three during the last seconds of the half to have Central up three, 37-34, in what would later prove to be one of the most critical baskets of the night.
The Bolt defense limited the Central offense to 12 points in the third quarter while East scored 18 points to acquire back the three-point lead they once had at the end of the first quarter, 52-49. Milien continued to light up the scoreboard for East, bringing his point total up to 15 by the end of the third.
The quarter was not without mistakes, though, with a bizarre sequence taking place after East’s Quiamco took away an incoming pass from Central. The senior guard passed to Montan, who attempted to get it to Barry, but the intended recipient turned away too quickly, allowing Central’s Lestor Rodriguez to pick it up, and although missing the three, it was rebounded and put back in by Jason Gomez.
East as a whole looked to be in high spirits at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but they were unable to come up big during game-changing moments. Senior Da’Qwon Foster failed to make either free throws at the 6:16 mark to at least tie the game, keeping the score at 53-52, unable to break the 4-0 Knight run.
Right after, the ‘Bolts stopped the Central fastbreak attempt with a turnover, but were unsuccessful in converting it into a scoring opportunity, with Delwin Montan called for a traveling violation to give the Knights back the ball.
A case of “turnover-itis” by both East and Central during the five-minute mark, where it seemed neither team was able to take care of the ball, was finally ended when East sophomore Drew Barrionette passed to a wide open Milien for an easy fastbreak layup, East’s first score of the fourth quarter, giving them the lead back, 54-53.
The ‘Bolts were given another chance at the free throw line, this time with a chance to extend the lead. East’s Barrionette failed to convert his free throws, and the score remained at 54-53.
Central would make a great play behind halfcourt after the East inbound, with Jesus Folger stripping Barrionette of the ball, and passing to Livent for another score to give the lead back to the Knights.
Livent capitalized on another ‘Bolts turnover, converting a score inside the paint to have the lead back at three for Central. He would have had another wide open fastbreak chance to extend the lead, but stepped out of bounds with 3:26 to go to gift the Thunderbolts with possession.
East again could not capitalize, as Central’s Christian Rosario pounced at a pass intended towards Milien, and forced the foul to get himself two shots at the charity stripe. Rosario hit both to get the Knights a 59-54 lead with a little over three minutes to go.
The ‘Bolts earned another chance at the line, this time with Naz Milien. Milien did not hit either of his free throws, but made up for it shortly after by hitting a layup off an offensive rebound and pass from Delwin Montan, and drilling the free throw attempt to get them within two points away from tying up the game, 59-57.
With 2:34 on the clock, Central was called for a traveling violation, which gave East possession. After the inbounds pass, Barrionette lost control of the ball again, and Central’s Jesus Folger got the easy score to get them to 61 points.
Folger came up on defense once again, taking in an underthrown pass by Davien Barry and giving the Knights the ball, again. A missed three-point attempt by Livent, however, proved unsuccessful, keeping East in the game.
A barrage of passes by East eventually had the ball into Montan’s hands, who converted a shot inside to bring it down to a two-point deficit. Aggressive on defense, East forced another turnover almost immediately, and had a Central player commit a foul.
The Bolts’ Barry had an opportunity to convert a one-and-one following the timeout after the foul. However, he was unable to convert the attempt, and East remained down, 61-59.
Central’s main focus at this point was to keep the ball away and run out the clock, but it seemed that they threw that idea into the trash, as they threw it directly into the hands of Da’Qwon Foster. Foster passed deep to Milien in a fastbreak attempt, but Milien could not control it just as he was about to attempt a layup that would have tied the game.
The Thunderbolts were given back possession of the ball, but an inbound pass to Montan went awry when he received the ball low and was unable to control it, letting Central gain possession. Central would also turn it over again when Livent lost control of the ball and it went out of bounds, East being awarded possession.
Chaos ensued over the game’s final 30 seconds. Barrionette fired a pass directly to Knight player Jaquez, who proceeded to pass it deep directly to East’s Foster. Foster then passed it to Milien, who in turn passed to Montan in the paint with about six seconds to go in regulation.
Montan fired away from inside immediately after receiving the pass, but the ball bounced off the right side of the glass, as the referees blew their whistles after the miss. Central inbounded, but East was quick to foul.
The Knights, back with possession with three seconds to go, would have been sure handed to win if the inbound was received and kept control of the ball. Central’s Christian Rosario inbounded to Livent at the corner, but Livent slipped up and the ball deflected off his body, going out of bounds and giving East the ball back.
East had taken a timeout after the turnover to formulate a plan of attack in order to either force overtime or get the win with a three. With Foster inbounding, he attempted to make a short pass to Barry, who circled to the corner, guarded by Livent. Livent won the one-on-one, taking away the ball and supposedly snuffed any possible comeback attempt by East with two seconds to go.
With less than three seconds to go, East was in possession for the second time in those three seconds. Foster was the inbounder again, and he passed the ball to Milien, who dropped the ball and was unable to pick up the ball in time to get a shot off.
The final result was a 61-59 Central Knights win. East turnovers and failure to make crucial free throws derailed what would have been one of the most shocking upsets this season. Central improves to 7-1 on the D-I season, already having clinched a playoff spot, while East falls to 2-6 in division play, failing to make any progress towards a playoff berth.
For Central, they proved that they can still close out close games strong even in hostile environments (see Central vs Classical on 1/22), but for East, this was a statement game, showing that when they are focused, they can compete with the top teams in the state.
Jayden Livent led Central to victory with 19 points on the night. Steven Jaquez finished up with 17, and Christian Rosario had eight. Top scorers for East were Naz Milien with 20, Delwin Montan with 14, and Davien Barry with 10. East will be back at home from the long weekend, taking on Barrington, a high-scoring, deep shooting team, this Tuesday at 7.
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