A 32-minute game was decided in the final 3.9 seconds.
Breanna Stewart missed a 15-foot jump shot, and Marissa Ray blocked Cara Gannett’s follow-up at the buzzer to give Shenendehowa a 34-33 victory over Cicero-North Syracuse in Saturday’s Class AA girls basketball regional at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.
Both teams played good, solid defense, said Shen coach Ken Strube. `Nobody took a shot that they wanted.`
`The kids did everything they needed to do in the second half. We hit our shots, grabbed rebounds and played good defense,` said Cicero-North Syracuse coach Eric Smith. `We just fell one basket short.`
The Northstars (18-3) had a 33-30 lead midway through the fourth quarter when Shen’s Andrea Mangione stepped up. The senior came off the bench and scored five unanswered points, including a pair of free throws with 3:04 left to put the Plainsmen (21-2) ahead by one point.
`As a senior, I really didn’t want the season to end,` said Mangione. `Even if I had been on the bench cheering on my team, I would have felt good. But to be able to contribute feels even better.`
`The one thing you know you’re getting from Andrea — and I know you can’t give more than 100 percent — is that she’s going to give you 150 percent,` said Strube.
The final three minutes were a series of missed shots and turnovers by both teams, as Shen desperately clung to its lead. Cicero-North Syracuse had a chance to take the lead with 1:21 left when Brittany Paul was fouled driving for a layup, but Paul missed both free throws.
The more heartbreaking sequence for the Northstars proved to be the final one. Shen missed a shot at the other end, and Cicero-North Syracuse grabbed the rebound and a time out with 13.3 seconds left. The Northstars set up a play for Stewart, but the sophomore forward was fouled on the floor with 3.9 seconds left. Since Shen had fouls to give, Cicero-North Syracuse had to inbound the ball from underneath the basket.
Once again, the Northstars turned to Stewart, who was their leading scorer all year. The inbounds pass came directly to Stewart, but with three Shen defenders surrounding her and time running out, Stewart heaved a shot that clanged off the back of the rim.
`It was a good look [at the basket], and it was a look that we expected to give her,` said Simth. `It was just an inch too long.`
`We knew the ball was going to her,` said Strube. `We wanted to make it as difficult of a shot as we could without fouling her.`
The rebound landed in Gannett’s hands, and the freshman took a final shot. But Ray stuffed the ball before it had a chance to go near the basket, and Shen prevailed.
That Cicero-North Syracuse still had a chance to win in the final seconds was a testament to the Northstars’ resiliency. Shen opened up a 24-13 halftime lead after closing the second quarter on a 9-0 run, during which Cicero-North Syracuse turned the ball over several times and was beaten by Shen on the glass.
The Northstars turned things around in the third quarter, though. They started forcing Shen turnovers and getting offensive production from Paul and senior guard Brittney Fedele, which helped them tie the game at 25.
`We decided at halftime that we had to play harder,` said Smith. `We were doing the things we needed to do in the first half. We just didn’t do them hard enough.`
`They played a lot better defensively,` said Strube. `They put a lot more pressure on the ball and away from the ball.`
Cicero-North Syracuse then opened the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run, capped by a Gannett basket that gave the North stars a 31-27 lead. The Northstars stayed in front until Magione brought Shen back and carried the Plainsmen into next weekend’s state semifinals in Troy.
`I think [the mood in the huddle] was like, ‘Guys, this can’t be our last game.’ We were just too close,` said Mangione.
Emily Weber led Shen with 11 points, 10 of which came during the first half. Ray contributed six points, while Meg Rogers led the defensive effort with eight rebounds.
Stewart finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Paul added seven points for Cicero-North Syracuse, which ended the season as the Section III champions.
`I couldn’t have asked anything more out of my kids this year,` said Smith.
Shen will face Section V champion Fairport Friday in the Class AA semifinals — its first appearance at the Final Four since 2004.
`It’s your dream before the season begins to get to Hudson Valley and be one of the final four teams,` said Strube, who has guided the Plainsmen to nine state tournaments in his career. `You quickly put that aside because you have things happen during the course of the season but when it happens, you’re kind of in shock because even though I’ve coached for some 30 years or so, it’s the first time I’ve gone with this group of kids. It’s really about the kids.“