2011-03-02 / Front Page

Haldane Advances to Sectional Finals

by Stephen Schweikhart

For a good part of Monday night, Haldane senior center Jackson Zuvic, who in February scored his 1,000th point, struggled to find his range against a strong Lincoln Hall defense. But he came through in the last seconds with a near buzzer-beat to send the Blue Devils to face Tuckahoe for the Class C championship on Saturday.

With seven seconds left in White Plains’ County Center, and Haldane down by one, Zuvic needed the ball, and he had to find his shot. Receiving Jimmy Meekins' wraparound pass with three seconds to go, Zuvic lofted a short range jumper from the baseline over the outstretched arm of a Lincoln Hall defender and then—watched:

The ball seemed to hang endlessly in the air. Two seconds, one ... the players, the coaches, the fans all waited to explode or cry. The ball gently rolled around the rim and settled softly in the net as the buzzer sounded and the celebration was on. Zuvic was bear-hugged by Will Hoffmann before the rest of his teammates joined in the bedlam. Away from the spotlight, Lincoln Hall players stood in absolute disbelief.

It was a fitting end to a game that had been tight throughout. Haldane enjoyed its biggest lead a scant four minutes in as they jumped out to an 8-1 lead. But Lincoln Hall clawed back to even the game at 10 by the end of the quarter. From there, neither team enjoyed a lead larger than six. Lincoln Hall's advantage was just that at the half, 27-21. Were it not for Elias Lopez, the Blue Devils would have likely been severely in the hole. Lopez carried the offensive load in the first half, scoring 11 of the team’s first 15, on his way to a career-high 19.

Whereas in the first half the Blue Devils seemed to disrupt their own flow by slowing things down on offense, in the second, they turned the game into a track meet.

Both offenses benefited from the game’s new found tempo, but it was Haldane who seemed to get the most out of change. Meekins, bringing the ball up the floor at breakneck speed, would not allowing Lincoln Hall to get settled. No one benefitted more from the up-tempo game than Zuvic who found more space on the perimeter and room to drive to the hoop.

The Blue Devils battled back in the wild third quarter to pull even at 41, before a Lincoln Hall three with one second left gave the school a 44-41 lead.

In the fourth, another Lincoln Hall trey pushed the lead to six, before two free throws by Hoffmann and Lopez layup got Haldane within one. Lincoln Hall responded with two buckets of their own and the lead was back to five. But Lopez again drove to the hoop to get Haldane within three, 51-48. After another Lincoln Hall bucket extended the lead to five with 4:15 left, the game turned into a roller coaster ride leading to Zuvic’s final bucket.

As Haldane brought the ball up the floor on the ensuing possession, Lincoln Hall guard Rodney Scales thought he had a clean steal and was headed for an uncontested layup. The officials, however, saw it otherwise and whistled Scales for a reach. Frustrated, Scales pounded the ball to the floor earning a technical foul. Instead of being down seven, Haldane had the chance to pull within three, with possession. Zuvic uncharacteristically missed both attempts from the charity stripe.

For the entire season, Blue Devil Coach Joe Virgadamo has touted his team’s chemistry and mental toughness. The next two minutes of the game succinctly proved the coach’s point. Obviously disgusted with the missed free-throws, Zuvic took the ball off the inbounds and angrily drove to the hoop to pull Haldane within three.

The next time down the floor, he pulled the Blue Devils within one and then followed that up by draining a three to give the Blue Devils a 55-53 lead with 2:56 left. Obscured by Zuvic’s clutch baskets were the Blue Devils’ two defensive stands that set up those deficit-eliminating baskets.

After a Lincoln Hall free throw, Zuvic nailed another three and the lead was 58- 54 with 1:26 left. Haldane seemed in control as they now enjoyed their largest lead since the game’s opening minutes. But the Blue Devils watched as Lincoln Hall scored five in 15 seconds, taking a 59-58 lead with 46.2 seconds left.

Each of Haldane’s next three possessions brought anticipation and exasperation, as the Blue Devils missed a pair of open jumpers and had a turnover. Suddenly the season was slipping away.

Corey Blair, Lincoln Hall’s leading scorer at 22 points, twice had the opportunity to put the game away from the foul line. In both instances, the sharpshooter missed the front end of the one-and-one giving the Blue Devils the chance they needed.

Blair’s second miss came with under ten seconds left. Haldane brought the ball to midcourt and called a time out to set up the play that would define their season. Seven seconds. Meekins. Zuvic. Bucket.

Zuvic finished with a gamehigh 30 points, while Meekins had 10 assists, none more important than the pressure packed dish he made to set up Zuvic’s winner.

The win sets up Super Saturday for Haldane basketball at the County Center in White Plains. The Lady Blue Devils will play the winner of the Keio/Hamilton matchup in the girls’ championship game at noon, immediately followed by the boys’ title game against Tuckahoe at 2pm.

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