PHILADELPHIA >> Thirty one years after he’d been harshly reminded of everything cruel about the Palestra, Jack Concannon was reminded that it works the other way, too.
Aware through a lifetime of basketball, and haunted by one moment since 1987, Concannon was convinced of one thing as he prepared Wednesday to coach Bonner & Prendie against Archbishop Carroll in the Catholic League semifinals.
“We knew,” he said, “it was going to be close at the end.”
That end would last only 18.1 seconds.
It would seem to take another lifetime.
Through the usual circumstances that define postseason high school basketball, the Friars needed to force three turnovers in that final stretch to hold off the Patriots, 48-45, and advance to the Catholic League championship game. That will be at 8:15 Monday night, also at the Palestra, against 18-5 Roman Catholic, a 69-66 winner over St. Joseph’s Prep Wednesday.
Bonner & Prendie, which defeated Roman, 68-66, in overtime during the regular season, will be seeking its first league championship since 1988, and also to be the first Delaware County Catholic League champion since Carroll in 1995.
If it happens, Concannon just might get over 1987.
“Last time I was in this building, other than as a fan,” he exhaled. “It was 1987. I was playing for Saint Joe’s. Double overtime against Villanova. I had a tip at the buzzer, and the ball didn’t go in.
“I left that night in tears.”
With their season not over, and with a PIAA play-in game next, the Patriots may not have been as crestfallen Wednesday. But the disappointment did come in layers after closing a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to 44-43 with 46.5 seconds left. That’s when high-scoring Friars guard Isaiah Wong spun into the lane and flipped in an athletic layup for a three-point lead.
“We just needed a bucket there,” Wong said. “When I shot it, I knew it was going in.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Archbishop Carroll vs. Bonner & Prendergast
A.J. Hoggard responded by following his own missed shot for a layup to draw Carroll within 46-45. When Tariq Ingraham made one of two free throws for a three-point Friars cushion, nothing would again go right for the Pats, who turned the ball over with 18.1 seconds left, with 16.3 seconds left and, down by three, with two seconds to play.
“I really thought we had a lot of the momentum down at the end,” Carroll coach Paul Romanczuk said. “But credit Isaiah Wong. He was the MVP for a reason. I thought we did a great job on him for the entire half. And then he makes a fantastic finish there at the end. That’s what big-time players do. And they made just enough of those plays to come away with the victory.”
Ingraham led the balanced Friars with 12 points and Wong added 10. Mike Perretta buried three triples for nine points, Donovan Rodriguez added eight and Ajiri Johnson six.
“I knew we could be a good team this year after a summer tournament in West Chester,” Johnson said. “We played as one team. We all came together. Mentally, we knew we were going to go for it. We had one goal and one heartbeat.”
The difference Wednesday was at the defensive end. In the Friars’ 79-72 regular-season victory, the Patriots hit 11 three-point shots. Wednesday, Carroll shot 0-for-10 from the arc.
“They are 16, 17, 18-year old guys playing their first game at the Palestra,” Romanczuk said. “Maybe a little nerves. But you have to credit Bonner too. Obviously, they wanted to take away our perimeter shot. And they did a great job of that.”
The Patriots (17-7), however, adapted, thriving inside. Keyon Butler scored 15 points, Hoggard 13 and Justin Anderson eight, keeping the upset in play until late.
“It is what it is,” Concannon said. “We are very evenly matched. Who gets the right bounce? Who gets the lucky bounce? Who makes the big play at the end? That’s what it comes down to. It’s been that way all year for us. It’s what we expected. And it’s what we are going to expect Monday night.”
The Palestra opportunity was Bonner & Prendie’s first in 10 years. Monday, the Friars will have their second in six days. From there, there will be opportunities in the state tournament.
But, well …
“I’m an old guy,” Concannon said. “To me, it is all about the Catholic League.”
And the building, and the memories, some more harsh than others.
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