ALAMEDA — The St. Joseph Notre Dame Pilots weren’t going to let it happen again.
“It” was a heartbreaking loss after squandering a huge lead against a high-profile opponent, something that had already happened back on January 13 in a loss to Bishop O’Dowd in which they led by 18 through one quarter. This time, against the St. Patrick-St. Vincent Bruins, the 18-point lead was at halftime, but the visitors scored the final 10 points of regulation and held a lead with five seconds left in overtime before Julian Vaughns came to the rescue.
The junior wing sank a 30-foot three just shy of the buzzer to force a second overtime, in which the Pilots used an 8-0 run to come away with an 83-80 win, one that should lock up the top seed in the upcoming NCS Division IV playoffs.
“I just wanted to make sure I didn’t foul out; I fouled out with about five minutes left against O’Dowd,” said Vaughns. “I wanted to stay in the game so I could help my team win.”
Sure enough, the transfer from nearby St. Mary’s did help his team win. Not only did he sink the dramatic 3-pointer to send the game to double overtime, he scored seven in the fourth quarter and 15 across the two overtime periods, all part of a game-high 29-point effort.
Early on, it was all St. Joseph Notre Dame (17-9), as the Pilots closed the first quarter on a 14-2 run and finished the second on a 12-2 stretch, all of which added up to a 45-27 lead at the break. Kobe Kiener was a huge part of that, sinking five of his seven 3-pointers in the first half and scoring 17 of his 23 points within those first two quarters.
Then the Bruins woke up. SJND scored just 15 points in the entire second half, with Kiener’s sixth and seventh threes accounting for the Pilots’ only points in the third quarter. On the other end, St. Patrick-St. Vincent (16-9) finally got going inside, with 6-foot-8 sophomore Dishon Jackson imposing his will. SPSV finished the third on a 10-3 run, capped off by his 3-point play.
While Jackson’s size had a profound effect on the gameplan for both teams, it was Marshel Martin who brought the Bruins back. The burly senior played far larger than his 6-foot-2 frame, scoring eight in the fourth quarter. In response, SJND packed it inside, allowing Chance McMillan to take over on the perimeter. The junior forward was scoreless for more than 28 minutes, but sank a deep 3-pointer to bring SPSV within six with 3:30 left. Facing a 60-54 deficit, he hit another three with 1:20 left and finally sank the tying three from almost as deep his first one with just 14.2 seconds left. An Akil Edwards block would send the game to overtime.
In that first overtime, the Bruins took their first lead of the entire game with just over two minutes remaining on yet another McMillan three, and two Edwards free throws gave them a 66-64 advantage with 1:24 left. McMillan and Vaughns each sank two from the line, but with a chance at an insurmountable four-point lead, Edwards’ second shot rimmed out with 6.3 seconds remaining, and after grabbing the rebound, Vaughns crossed half-court and sank the shot that would be etched in everyone’s memories, the leaning 30-footer to send the crowd into a frenzy and force the teams to play another four minutes.
It was Vaughns who gave the Pilots the lead for good on a 3-point play 35 seconds into the second overtime. In that second overtime, SJND would convert eight of 10 from the line and led 77-71 on a Vaughns jumper with 90 seconds left. Martin would cut the lead to three in the final 30 seconds, but Vaughns would convert a pair from the line to restore a five-point advantage and after an Edwards layup with 13.2 to go, coach Derek Walker was forced to burn his final timeout. Cameron Ba sank both free throws out of that timeout, and, though Edwards would score again, the Bruins wouldn’t be able to stop the clock within the final seconds as time expired on one of the best games played in the Bay Area this year.
So how did the Pilots avoid another heartbreak? Don Lippi attributed their success to the O’Dowd game.
“That O’Dowd game helped us win this game,” said the acclaimed head coach. “Tough teams put you in a position that you’ve never been through.”
Their always-effective zone defense prevented SPSV from controlling the middle. Though Jackson (18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Martin (19 points, 10 rebounds) did each finish with double-doubles, the hosts ensured neither would ever completely take over the game.
A big part of that was 6-foot-5 junior Adam Campos, who scored just four points but played solid defense until fouling out early in the first overtime.
“All through my career, I’ve played against guys that are a lot taller than me,” said the three-year starter. “You’ve got to be a lot more physical with them and can’t let them get anything easy.”
Even after fouling out, Campos still had an effect on the game by acting as both a cheerleader and coach.
“That’s my job as a captain,” he said. “It’s my job to lead the team whether I’m on or off the court.”
If 36 minutes weren’t enough, the two teams could tangle once again, as the Bruins will likely take the second seed in that Division IV field.
“We’d love to play them some more,” said Lippi. “Their coach was in my basketball camp when he was in fourth grade.”
Walker, however, wouldn’t look that far ahead.
“That happened last year, and it didn’t work out in our favor,” he said, referring to a stunning NCS semifinal loss to Lick-Wilmerding in which the Bruins let a 20-point lead slip away. “We’ve got to take it day by day and get better. We can’t spot a team 18 points at their place and expect to win.”
Though it took a while for SPSV to get going, Edwards was a constant, totaling 22 points and seven assists. McMillan, despite going scoreless for most of the game, finished with 14.
Kiener had 23 for the Pilots, all within the first three quarters, while Ba, the lone senior on the SJND roster, ended up with a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) while converting all six attempts from the line.
Both teams will play in their respective league tournaments next week before entering the aforementioned NCS Division IV field.