By Tom Robinson, NEPA Elite News
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – The NEPA Elite Coyle 17U boys fought back from a 14-point deficit to tie the game in the final minute, only to lose on a last-second basket, 47-45, to the South Jersey Hoops Elite Wednesday night at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
The loss came in a Hoop Group Showcase League game that was part of opening night of The Hoop Group’s Atlantic City Jam Fest.
NEPA Elite teams went 1-2 on the first day of the three-day boys event.
All five boys teams from the AAU basketball club out of Riverfront Sports in Scranton will be in action Thursday when the longest day of the event takes place.
The Coyle boys scored eight straight points in the final 3:29 to create the game’s only tie and had a possession with a chance to take the lead in the final minute.
SJHE came out of a timeout with 9.5 seconds remaining and worked the ball into the lane to win the game on a basket from close range with less than a second left.
NEPA Elite was given four-tenths of a second after calling a timeout when the basket went in. It managed to get off a desperation shot that was off the mark.
“I thought we adjusted well,” coach Brian Coyle said. “Our guys got slapped early, but I thought they responded.”
The comeback began when Justice Shoats hit one of two free throws with 3:29 left.
Jason Shields, who finished a game-high 10 points, scored the last seven NEPA Elite points. He hit a jumper from the left elbow with 2:25 left, got a three-point play off a Shoats mid-court steal with 1:45 remaining, then tied the game on a drive with a minute to go.
SJHE used its height and physical strength to control the game early.
NEPA Elite started the game with three straight turnovers, followed by two straight shots that didn’t get to the rim in an 0-for-7 start.
Austin Finarelli’s 3-pointer from the right wing got the offense started after SJHE took a 10-1 lead.
The Medford, N.J. team opened its biggest lead at 28-14 with 3:22 left in the half, but by then it had received 9 of its last 11 points on 3-pointers as NEPA Elite closed up the middle.
SJHE then went just 1-for-10 from beyond the arc the rest of the game while NEPA Elite worked its way back.
“With their size and physicality, another thing that hurt us in the first half was their offensive rebounding,” Coyle said. “I tried to condense the floor and make them shoot outside.”
Matthew Prociak, who had tipped in his own rebound between two SJHE 3-pointers, fueled an 8-0 run to get within 28-22 and induce SJHE to burn a timeout with 1:40 left in the half.
Prociak drew inside defense and kicked the ball out to Shields and Ethan Meuser for 3-pointers. He then ran the floor to score in transition.
“We came up with a few different defenses and once we started focusing and moving the ball better, our shots started falling,” Coyle said. “ … We had a couple 3s that we saw go in and that sort of opened everything else up.”
SJHE rebuilt the lead to 32-23 at halftime.
The lead reached double figures just once in the second half, but NEPA Elite put together an early 7-0 run to get within 34-30. Nick Nocito hit a 3-pointer between two Meuser free throws and a Prociak putback in transition.
The lead went back to eight three more times before NEPA Elite put together the late surge.
Finarelli, Nocito and Meuser finished with seven points each. Finarelli did all his scoring in the first half. Nocito hit two 3-pointers in the second half.
Prociak finished with six points, five rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot.
Shoats led NEPA Elite’s pressure defense with five steals and helped NEPA Elite commit just 7 turnovers while SJHE had 13, including 8 in the second half.
Shields is from Scranton.
Finarelli and Nocito are also high school teammates at Dallas while Prociak and Shoats play together at Holy Redeemer.
Meuser is a recent Wyoming Seminary graduate who is headed to a year of prep school at the Hill School in Pottstown.
With the HGSL portion of the event complete, the Coyle team will move into play in the 17U Platinum Division Pool J where it has two games Thursday and one Friday. Thursday’s schedule begins at 11:50 a.m. against Team Mega.
Pool J has four teams and the Coyle team also plays one crossover Friday.
Other NEPA Elite teams in Atlantic City:
The Wignot 17U team is competing in the 17U Expressway Division, which is strictly a 16-team tournament bracket with additional consolation brackets for early-round losers.
Pure Basketball is the opponent in Thursday’s 3:30 p.m. first-round game.
Van Zelst 16U
Early Risers defeated the Van Zelst 16U team, 63-46, in a meeting of HGSL teams during the first round of 56-team bracket play for the 16U Platinum Division.
The Van Zelst team drops into a losers’ bracket where it faces Pharos Elite in a Thursday 8:15 a.m. game.
Gabe Gonzalez had 13 points in the loss while James Pettinato added 10.
Pettinato had all 10 of his points in the first half while Gonzalez was adding 9.
Conor Holland finished with nine points.
Gonzalez is from Holy Cross, Pettinato from Scranton Prep and Holland from Marathon, N.Y.
The Miller team is participating in the 16U Parkway Division Pool B where it has two games Thursday, starting with an 8:15 matchup against Grindhouse Hoops.
Placement in the three-team pool will determine Friday’s pairing.
Will Marion scored 14 points and Gabe Tanner added 13 as the Joyce team defeated New Jersey Shoreshots-Kovner, 60-52, in a 15U Platinum Division game Wednesday.
Mason Fedor and Kellen Casey chipped in with eight points each.
Coach Corey Joyce said the team got off to a slow start that carried to about the midway point in the first half.
“After that, I thought our kids were really active on defense and moved the ball well for the most part to create open shots,” Joyce said.
Marion and Fedor are both from Abington Heights while Tanner is from Mid Valley and Casey from Scranton Prep.
The 15U Platinum Division is being played as a bracket with competition continuing Thursday at 10:40 a.m. when the Joyce team faces KYDA.
The Platinum Division is a 32-team bracket.