Pinelands stun Lakers
Jeremy Gill went toe-to-toe with Andre Lockhart.
Lakers came up short in the clutch and Pinelands got the better of their Husbands tormentors.
Apparently a lot can change in two weeks.
It might be a little late in coming but Pinelands finally got that win as Charles Vanderpool scored the game-winning basket with two seconds left in Wednesday’s 70-69 knockout thriller over newly-crowned Premier League basketball champs Lumber Company Lakers at the Wildey Gym.
The classic first-round upset proved a measure of solace for a luckless Pinlands that was just 11 days removed from losing all three games in the finals against the same opponents after also dropping the teams’ only regular season meeting.
And they very nearly lost this one too, having thrown away yet another double-digit fourth-quarter lead (65-54) before giving up what seemed to be the game-winning free throws to Lockhart with 34 seconds left (69-68).
To make matters worse, Kurt Elias blew two subsequent chances at the line to give Pinelands the lead again after missing four straight free throws in the span of four seconds.
But there would be no repeat of another Pine disaster, as Vanderpool hauled in the ensuing offensive rebounds before scoring on a short hook in traffic for the unlikely go-ahead basket.
Lakers still had one more opportunity to inflict just the latest in a long line of Pinelands heartbreaks though, but Matthew Moore missed a wide-open jumper at the free throw line off a well-designed inbounds play.
It was the wild finish to a contest that wasn’t wanting for drama with the opening round knockout game pitting the two finalists less than two weeks following the championship series.
Pinelands threatened to suck the life out of this one, with Elias taking advantage of Lakers’ soft interior defence with a series of uncontested layups in the third quarter that turned a 41-35 deficit into a 55-44 cushion.
And they managed to maintain that 11-point cushion (65-54) right up until the midway point of the ensuing fourth despite their opposition’s frantic full court pressure.
However, the inevitable Lakers run came after Ian Alexander, Mark Bridgeman and Keefe Birkett combined for eight unanswered points to reduce Pinelands’ lead to just three in less than two minutes.
Gill appeared to end the run with a nifty reverse layup, only to see Birkett respond with a huge trey on the very next possession and Bridgeman add a transition layup to pull Lakers within one (68-67).
The rally then seemed all but complete when Lockhart forced Gill into a tough three before drawing a subsequent foul and sinking both of the go-ahead free throws with 34 seconds remaining.
Elias also got fouled twice on the next possession, missing the first two free throws before ending up with the loose ball to brick two more shots at the charity stripe.
Lakers, inexplicably leaving their small-ball line-up on the floor, never got their hands on any of those rebounds and Vanderpool duly made them pay with two seconds remaining.
The last-second finish proved the fitting end to a thrilling back-and-forth contest that no side led by more than eight in the first quarter after Ormond Haynes’ hot start gave Lakers an initial 11-3 cushion.
Gill threatened to take matters in his own hands, driving by Lockhart for an easy score before beating the buzzer on a contested triple to start a stretch where he scored 14 of Pinelands’ next 22 points.
Lockhart countered with a long jumper before Birkett added two triples to keep Lakers ahead 36-33 at the break.
However, Pinelands rattled off eight straight points early in the third quarter behind some inspired play from Justin Maloney until Elias benefited from easy looks off drives from Gill and Maloney.
Gill finished with 17 points, Elias added 14 while Maloney and Vanderpool finished with 12 and 11 points respectively. For Lakers, Lockhart led all scorers with 20 points, Birkett had 16 and Bridgeman added 13.