POTTSTOWN >> There is not much separating the Norristown and Spring-Ford boys basketball teams.
The Eagles won both regular season meetings, but the second was a three-point win in double overtime.
The difference in the third meeting in the Pioneer Athletic Conference semifinals was one point and 0.7 seconds.
Spring-Ford’s Nestor Diaz was fouled with less than a second left in overtime, made the first free throw, intentionally missed the second and gave the Rams a 44-43 win at Pottstown High School Friday night.
“I got the rebound and went right up,” Diaz said. “Literally four people were swarming me and I just tried to put it up. I knew it was going to be a foul and got to the line. This happened last year actually in a different situation against Pottstown. We were down two and I was on the line with no time left and I had to make three. I ended up doing it that game so I knew this game if I came out, took my time, just breathe in, breathe out, I’ll be fine.”
The game went to overtime tied at 39. Diaz gave Spring-Ford a two-point edge with a layup and Norristown’s Vernon Tubbs cut that in half going 1-for-2 from the free-throw line. Harrison Pierce hit a pair of free throws to put the Rams up three with 1:24 remaining before Tubbs hit a long three-pointer to tie the game at 43 with 38 seconds left.
Spring-Ford entered the fourth quarter with a 27-25 lead and neither team led by more than a possession the rest of the way. Darius Hopewell and Tubbs made back-to-back shots for Norristown to go from down two to up two, 39-37, with 1:40 left in regulation. Rams center Austin Hokanson tied the game at 39 with 40 seconds left. Hopewell had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but his jump shot through contact came up empty.
“At the end of (regulation) Darius had a nice look at the basket,” Norristown coach Binky Johnson said. “It was real physical. (The ref) said we’re going to let it go. I was happy with that, I said this is our type of game. I was shocked that they called the last one (end of overtime). Throughout the game it was back-and-forth. It was typical what you see with Spring-Ford, really solid team. They came to play.
“Down the stretch we didn’t execute the way we should have. I’ll take ownership of that because some of the things I thought we could do and put us in situations. I have to do a better job of putting us in positions to score late in the game.”
Noah Baker, who fouled out with 3:40 left in regulation, led Spring-Ford with 11 points. Diaz and Hokanson each added 10.
Hopewell led Norristown with a game-high 16 points and Tubbs added 13.
The Rams advance to face Methacton in the PAC championship Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Pottstown High School.
Norristown will have a week off before starting the District 1 Class-6A playoffs next Friday. The Eagles are No. 7 in the unofficial power rankings and will find out where they officially are Sunday.
“I tried to keep the guys on even keel,” Johnson said of the post-game message to his team, “not to overlook what was at stake tonight, but we have to move on to something else now and put this behind us. Sometimes I like going into district play with a loss. Create some hunger for a whole week.”
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