Hart’s heady play wins title for Roman over Bonner & Prendergast

PHILADELPHIA >> As they sat at the dais Monday night, finishing each other’s responses to reporters’ questions, the teamwork aspect came through loud and clear from Roman Catholic.

So it was as the clock wound down on a Catholic League championship game at the Palestra, the Cahillites trying to run out the last 98 seconds against Bonner & Prendergast, that Hakim Hart glided out to the right corner, quietly but vigilantly. Never mind that the junior wing hadn’t scored in the fourth quarter of a tie game, or that every eye on the building would gravitate toward the ball in Lynn Greer III’s hand or the high screen set by Seth Lundy.

When Greer drove and drew a help defender, Hart was ready to do what the Roman basketball ethos commands, to be ready.

Hart’s lay-in off glass with 1.6 seconds left settled a scintillating if frenetic final, a 51-49 decision for Roman.

“I knew when I was watching Lynn up top, he’s breaking his man down,” Hart said. “So in my head, I was thinking he’s going to be by him, I’ve got to be ready to shoot.”

Hart finished with six points, qualifying as the fourth option of the five Cahillites on the court. But that didn’t matter when the spotlight turned his way. Roman held the ball for the last 1:38, following Bonner’s 17th and final turnover.

Bonner & Prendergast’s Ajiri Johnson slams home for two points ate the end of the first half. Johnson scored just six points in a 51-49 setback to Roman Catholic. (Pete Bannan/Digital First Media)

At 49-all, with Roman coach Matt Griffin gesticulating wildly but not calling timeout, Greer waited until fewer than 10 seconds remained to start his drive. He gained a step on his defender, Isaiah Wong, around the screen, and with Mike Perretta pulling off Hart in the lane, Hart slashed in from the corner for his star turn.

“It was a hard possession to guard,” Wong said. “We didn’t know when he was going to take it. When he did take it, I was a little bit trailing and then Mike helped, and he passed it and it was a bucket. It was a hard possession for us.”

The same “team over individual” mindset presented an even unlikelier hero at the defensive end: Reserve guard Louie Wild. With starting forward John Kelly picking up four fouls with astounding speed — three in the first 3:38 of the game, then a fourth three minutes into the third quarter — it fell to Wild to defend one of Bonner’s two post presences, Ajiri Johnson or Tariq Ingraham. Wild, listed at a scrappy 6-feet, fronted Ingraham nearly out of the game. He scored nine points to go with seven rebounds, but only four of those points came in the second half on three shot attempts.

PHOTO GALLERY: Roman Catholic vs. Bonner & Prendergast

Johnson, who electrified the crowd with a steal and run-out slam in the final seconds of the first half, scored six in the opening half and none after, attempting just one field goal after the break despite 13 rebounds.

“I was just trying to play hard,” Wild said. “I was just trying to front him the whole time and I knew if they threw the ball over me, I had someone on my back. So I was just trying to play hard the whole time. … You’ve got to stay focused all the time. Heart over height.”

“He wasn’t by himself,” guard Allen Bertrand was quick to interject. “I went behind him every time. He knew I was there every time. I wouldn’t let him go anywhere.”

Bonner & Prendergast’s Isaiah Wong, right, is fouled as he goes up for a shot in the third quarter by Roman Catholic’s Hakim Hart in the Catholic League final. Hart scored the game-winning bucket in a 51-49 decision for Roman. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

The Friars (21-4) compensated for the lack of post production mainly through Wong, who scored 18 points, and Yohance Garner, who stepped up with a season-high 11 points.

“My coach was believing in me,” Garner said. “Each time I get out there, I try my best. Every game, my coach just tells me to go out and play. He tells me to relax. And that’s what I do, and I help my team.”

Roman’s repartee shines through in the chemistry its six-man rotation shows, and it spelled the difference in a game where neither team led by more than six points in the final three quarters. A 6-0 run put Roman ahead in the fourth, then Bertrand (14 points) slammed home an alley-oop from Greer with 4:30 to play to give the Cahillites a 43-41 lead.

Bonner’s response was swift. After a timeout, Wong finally fed Ingraham for a 3-point play, then Wong hit four free throws (around a missed front-end) to nudge Bonner ahead, 48-43.

Lundy, who scored a team-high 15 points, replied with two from the line, then a savage step-back 3-pointer to knot the game at 48. After Greer (12 points) and Ingraham traded free throws, the Friars threw the ball away, part of an uncharacteristically sloppy night that included 12 second-half turnovers and a 13-for-20 day from the free-throw line, squandering a 39-24 edge on the boards.

All that left was for someone on Roman to step to the fore. Hart wasn’t the only one that could, just the one that happened to.

“Anybody can score on this team,” Hart said. “… It felt amazing. It’s something I’ve dreamed about for years.”

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