With just over six minutes left, the Bishop Hendricken basketball team had given its near-capacity home crowd every reason to believe that a win was in the books on Tuesday night.
But La Salle wasn’t buying it.
After Gerry Manning’s putback gave the Hawks a 51-40 lead with 6:08 to play, the Rams went on a 15-2 run to close out the game, handing Hendricken a brutal 55-53 loss.
Marred my turnovers and missed free throws at the end of the game, the Hawks fell to 1-3 in Division I. La Salle improved to 3-1.
“We had plenty of opportunities around the basket, free throws,” Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes said. “And we come away with two points in the last five minutes. We’ve got to work on our execution and really our mental toughness in certain stretches of the game.”
Hendricken missed all four of its free throw attempts over the final six minutes and turned the ball over five times. It made just one of its final seven shots from the field.
The mistakes really came to the forefront in the final 1:34.
After La Salle had cut its deficit to two points at 53-51 on a driving layup by Dexter Thompson, Hendricken took over and called a timeout to regroup.
It did little to help, though, as the Hawks couldn’t find a clean shot on offense, forcing point guard Corey Palumbo to fire up a desperation three-pointer as the shot clock was approaching zero. La Salle’s Michael Clark read the play perfectly and blocked Palumbo’s shot, sending the Rams on a fast break.
Thomas Hunt gathered the loose ball and laid it in, while also drawing a foul. He made the free throw, giving La Salle a 54-53 lead with exactly one minute to play. It was the first Rams’ lead since 37-36 with 12:58 to play.
“We were back on our heels – they put us back on our heels,” La Salle head coach Marc Bayha said. “Hendricken is a great team, very well-coached, but our leadership through our guys held us together.”
Hendricken again turned it over the next time it touched the ball, and with 42 seconds to play, it fouled Clark, who missed the front end of a one-and-one.
The Hawks got the rebound, and Manning drew a foul with 20.5 seconds left in the game. With a chance to either tie the game or give the Hawks the lead, though, Manning missed both free throws, and La Salle grabbed the ball and drew a foul with 7.6 seconds left.
“We had our opportunities, that’s what I told them,” Gomes said. “I said, ‘We had opportunities to win that game.’”
Hendricken got one more big chance when Hunt missed the front end of his one-and-one, and the Hawks rebounded the ball before calling a timeout with 3.7 seconds left.
Gomes drew up a play to get junior shooting guard Lee Messier the ball off the inbounds pass, but Nick Bourdeau threw the pass wide of Messier at the top of the key, and it rolled out of bounds for the nail in the coffin.
“We figured they were going to Messier, but they have a number of guys that can hurt you,” Bayha said. “We played man and we switched everything. What we were hoping to do, as soon as they caught the basketball, we were going to foul them. We had fouls to give. The bounces went the way they did and we didn’t end up having to foul in that situation.”
The Hawks immediately fouled Clark on La Salle’s inbounds pass, and he made one of two free throws. Palumbo got the rebound of a miss on the second foul shot, but his desperation three from beyond half court hit the ceiling and fell harmlessly to the ground, ending the game.
“I thought for the most part we played a good game,” Gomes said. “I thought we played together. I saw a lot of good things – we battled, we competed. But it takes more than that. You’ve really got to start using (your head).”
Bourdeau led Hendricken with 14 points, including 12 in the first half, while Messier added 13 and Palumbo scored seven. Hunt was La Salle’s top scorer with 17 and Clark had 14 off the bench.
The game was tied 31-31 at halftime after Hendricken couldn’t hold on to a late nine-point lead prior to the break. The game was back-and-forth in the early going of the second half before Hendricken took control, only to see La Salle come all the way back and steal the victory.
Next up for the Hawks is 2-1 Mt. Pleasant, which they will play on the road on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Kilties won’t be a pushover, as they already have a 70-58 win over La Salle this season.
Still, Gomes doesn’t believe his team is very far off.
“We’re at the hump,” Gomes said. “I’m telling them, ‘What average teams will do is they’ll back down. At 1-3 in the league right now, they’ll back down and succumb to that adversity.’ I don’t think that’s our group of guys. We’ve just go to stay positive, keep working hard in practice, and eventually we’ll get over that hump.’”