Roggio lifts Central Bucks East over Owen J. Roberts 52-50 in OT

BUCKTOWN >> It wasn’t going to see the season end with a whimper.

Instead, Owen J. Roberts banged away at Central Bucks East Friday. Trailing by as many as 10 points in the first half, the Wildcats worked their way back to all-even status with the Patriots, forcing their District 1 Class 6A playoff opener to overtime after pulling even in regulation, 45-45.

Owen J. Roberts remained the equal of Central Bucks East for much of the four-minute OT frame until a cutting Nick Roggio got free for a layup with two seconds left to provide the decisive moment in the Patriots’ 52-50 win, closing out the Wildcats’ otherwise productive 2017-18 campaign with a two-point loss.

“I’ve been with these guys every day,” Dawson Stuart, the team’s and game’s scoring leader with 18 points, said while his OJR teammates filed out of the locker room one last time. “There was no doubt in my mind we wouldn’t come back … down two, four or 20 points. We fought through five quarters.”

Stuart admitted wanting to take the last shot after East’s Roggio put his club ahead the last time. But his shot from just short of half-court wasn’t able to find the basket, sending 13th-seeded Roberts home while 20th-seed East heads toward a second-round game against neighboring rival Central Bucks West.

“Every practice, we tell the kids, if they make one stop, they can win a game,” Owen J. head coach Kevin Kirby said. “Well, we came up one short.”

The dramatic finish was crafted by OJR’s Nick Massa, who drained a 3-point bucket with one second left in regulation. It capped a promising fourth quarter that saw OJR (14-11) run off three straight baskets in the first three minutes of play to cut the Pats’ lead to one (40-39). East answered with a pair of field goals by Leo Masterson and Roggio (15 points), but it mustered only one free throw over the final 3:22 while Owen J. got a free throw from Sean Praweckyj (nine points) and Stuart’s jumper from the paint with 39 seconds left.

The Patriots opened overtime with Collin Stein hitting a 3-pointer 50 seconds in, and with Jesse Rivera (12 points) hitting a two-pointer at the 1:30 mark. Owen J. answered with Stuart burying a 3-pointer 22 seconds later, and Sa’Vaughn Davidheiser making two from the line with 51 seconds left.

“We wanted to get the ball to Dawson,” Kirby said of the final-play plan. “Sa’Vaughn threw a great pass. We were screened on the one side. There’s not a much tougher shot at the end of a game.”

Its finish was reminiscent of last season, when East had to go overtime to prevail over Council Rock South in a playoff game. This time around, the Patriots relied on solid (62 percent) accuracy from the floor and a 23-17 rebounding edge to come away the winner.

“That helped us,” Roggio said of East’s previous OT experience. “We wanted to control the game … not let them get an open shot, play clean defense.”

The Pats’ patient, deliberate offensive style featured another double-figure scorer in Kyle Cassidy, who finished with 13 points. It put together a 10-point run in a 2:44 span of the first quarter to erase OJR’s game-opening four-point lead off a Stuart hook shot and Praweckyj banking in a basket.

“They can all dribble, pass and shoot,” Kirby said of East. “But our kids battled. We took big shots, and made big stops.”

OJR beat the Patriots in the turnover battle, 13-6, and Stuart’s seven boards were a game high. But its 41-percent field-goal accuracy paled against East’s 21-for-34.

“We knew they’re patient and deliberate,” Kirby said. “They did a great job.”

Owen J. Roberts’ season featured its first appearance in the Pioneer Athletic Conference playoffs, and its first home district game, since 2009.

“It was a great year,” Kirby said. “We had a tough schedule. Every team we lost to made the playoffs.

“We battled every night. It’s a credit to the kids. We have talent coming back, so we have to work during the offseason and be ready to go.”

Stuart, Praweckyj, Shyheed May and Justin Bailey — Owen J’s senior class — will all be going the graduation route this spring.

“We have a lot of guys coming back,” he said. “The team next year should be fun to watch.”

NOTES >> Stuart, Davidheiser and May each had two assists on the night. … Praweckyj and Massa made two steals apiece, figuring in the ‘Cats collecting 15 points off turnovers.

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