By Ron Buck
Special to the Record-Journal
MERIDEN — The latest edition of the Silver City rivalry on the hardwood was played at a fever pitch Friday night at Platt High School. And it came down to a final shot.
A 10-foot baseline runner by Platt’s Jher’Quez Slater bounced off the rim with two seconds to play, allowing visiting Maloney to beat the Panthers 58-57 at a packed Platt gymnasium.
In a CCC South-Colonial South game that saw Maloney take a 12-point halftime lead and Platt rally to take its first lead with five minutes to play, the Spartans snapped a three-game losing streak to improve to 6-7.
Platt’s four-game winning streak ended as the Panthers fell to 8-3 on the season. It was Platt’s first CCC loss of the season, the two previous defeats coming to Cheshire and North Haven of the SCC.
Vincent Martinez led Maloney with 25 points. With Platt rallying in the third quarter and catching Maloney in the fourth, fellow sophomore Garrison Kunst added big basket after big basket in the second half for Maloney to finish with 17 points.
Yet another sophomore, James Tarver, was a key contributor for the Spartans. All three stepped up in key moments to pull out the rivalry win on Friday.
“This is all new stuff for our kids,” Maloney head coach Howie Hewitt said. “You can’t do any drills. You can’t come even close to mimicking a Platt-Maloney game.
“Just a great basketball game,” Hewitt added. “We got out front early, and they came back like a good team. They came flying back, but our kids did a great job of keeping their composure.”
Martinez, who played as a freshman at Platt, scored 16 of his game-high 25 points in the first half as the Spartans opened up a double-digit lead. Kuntz had eight of his points in the fourth quarter and his dunk brought the biggest roar of the night from a standing-room-only crowd.
“It was intense out there,” Martinez said. “I just knew I had to do whatever we needed. It’s a great win.
“I knew all the players at Platt, so I just tried to use that as an advantage. I knew they’d face-guard me,” Martinez added. “This is definitely a spark for the rest of the games.”
Platt’s leading scorer was senior captain Roemello Leary, who had 15 points. Another senior captain, Malcolm Andrews, scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, but elected to pass the ball instead of taking the last shot.
Platt, which didn’t lead until 51-48 with 5:31 to play in the game, nearly sent Maloney to yet another heartbreaking loss. In the game’s final seconds, Andrews rebounded Tarver’s miss of the front end of a 1-and-1 and, after a few dribbles, passed the ball to Elijah Wright on the right wing.
Wright passed to Slater, who drove from the corner on the baseline, but missed the runner. The teams scrambled for the rebound as the final seconds ticked away and the buzzer sounded.
“I just think we lost our heads a little bit,” Andrews said. “I was thinking about (driving to the basket), but I had to do what I thought was the best thing, and me driving all the way up the court wasn’t the best shot.”
“I thought about taking a time out, but we had a good opportunity with an unbalanced floor to get a good look,” Platt head coach Shawon Moncrief said. “That’s a shot that young man usually hits, so I felt comfortable with him taking it.”
The game came down to the final 90 seconds.
Leary’s offensive rebound and put-back gave Platt a 57-54 lead. Martinez followed his own miss 25 seconds later to get the Spartans within 57-56.
After a Platt turnover, Martinez was fouled by Tre Carter on a fast-break layup attempt and calmly sank two free throws with 41 seconds to play to give Maloney its final margin of victory.
But the game was hardly over at that point.
After the Panthers missed on the other side of the court, their pressure defense forced Martinez to throw a pass that hit the Maloney basket and bounced to Platt’s Brian Acosta. Fouled on the floor scrambling for the ball, Acosta missed the front end of a 1-and-1.
Leary grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Adriel Gill, who missed a runner with 13 seconds to play.
Forced to foul, Platt put Tarver at the line. Tarver missed his free throw, setting up the wild sequence at the end.
Platt got within 46-42 after three quarters, with the final points coming on Slater’s strip of Martinez at midcourt and layup with just two seconds left.
With Platt pressing at every opportunity, it was Martinez who stayed under control. Martinez’s driving layups allowed the Spartans to open up a double-digit lead throughout the second quarter. His back-to-back layups gave Maloney a 30-16 lead with 2:50 to play in the half.
“We were prepared for their pressure, and that’s why when we turned the ball over a few times in a row,” Hewitt said. “I told the kids in the huddle that they made their run like good teams do. We just have to keep our composure.”
Platt, which had gone the first 4:14 of the second quarter without a field goal, charged back behind two free throws by Leary and a steal by Slater that led to a Leary layup. That got the Panthers within 30-21 with 1:52 to play in the half before a 3-pointer by Martinez and two free throws by Jeremiah Williams in the final 90 seconds gave the Spartans a 12-point lead at halftime.