Tyler Ennis made the putback to finish the game that should be talked about for weeks -- even months.
But it was the less dramatic interior work of teammate Kamal Richards that set the tough, opportunistic tone for St. Benedict’s. The Newark squad, ranked No. 2 in the MSG Varsity Top 15, rallied from nine points down in the third quarter to beat No. 4 Plainfield, 67-65, on Ennis’ putback off a missed free throw with 5.9 seconds to go Saturday at the Hoop Group Tip-Off Showcase at West Orange High.
Richards, a 6-6 senior, emerged as a factor underneath in the second half after his talented club failed to truly capitalize on its height advantage for the first 18 minutes or so of action.
The 6-2 Ennis was just following that strong lead when he soared above an opponent to tap in a missed foul shot by Denzell Taylor after the junior forward had tied this thrilling game at 65-65 on a putback with 7.8 seconds to go.
“We just had to start getting the ball inside and using our size on the boards,” Ennis said. “Kamal played really well near the end of the game.”
St. Benedict’s head coach Mark Taylor was even more emphatic about Richards’ impact after watching him score five of his 12 points and yank down five of his 13 boards in that third period.
“He was the difference in the game,” Taylor said. “We found a way to win this game because of what he did in the third quarter.”
Versatile senior guard Melvin Johnson, a transfer from now-closed Rice of Harlem and headed to Miami, made an impact, as well, with a game-high 27 points, including 14 in the second half to help St. Benedict’s (5-0) chip away from a 34-27 deficit. Yale-bound forward Justin Sears of Plainfield, also played a significant role, both for what he did and wasn’t able to do.
Sears was a tremendous presence inside, scoring 21 points to go along with 15 rebounds and four blocks. But he fouled out on Taylor’s follow in those closing seconds and had to watch those agonizing 7.8 seconds as Ennis won position that may not have been available with Sears on the floor.
“We put ourselves in that position, though,’’ Plainfield head coach Jeff Lubreski said. “We didn’t want to have that one possession there, but we were careless enough with the ball prior to that. I think that we had a basket lead and gave up the ball a little too soon. We put ourselves in that situation and the kid made a play, got a rebound, won the game.”
Plainfield (1-1) took its final lead, 65-63, on two free throws by Sears after drawing a foul on a long drive through the lane with 23.1 seconds left. Lubreski was hoping his guys would hold out longer following a runner by Johnson to knot the game at 63-63 for St. Benedict’s with 1:01 remaining.
“We’re a veteran team” Lubreski said. His squad returns five starters from the team that lost to St. Anthony last March in the Tournament of Champions final. “We’ve played in situations like this before, so I don’t believe that that (Sears absence) factored in as much as our lack of execution, I think.”
Plainfield took a 48-46 lead into the fourth quarter, but Johnson tied things at 50-50 on a spinning drive with 6:03 to go. Plainfield bumped the lead to 59-57 behind the playmaking of Jahmal Lane, but St. Benedict’s again tied it, 59-59, on a free throw by Richards with 2:13 left and a basket inside from Johnson with 1:59 remaining. Sears hit a free throw nine seconds later for Plainfield, then the Grey Bees took their first lead since early in the first quarter, 61-60, on a putback by Richards with 1:23 to go.
“The comeback shows how much heart we have and how much determination we have,” Ennis said. “We’ve wanted this game every since the summer (a loss to Plainfield in the PrimeTime Summer Shootout). We wanted revenge.”
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS