Buzzer-beater lifts Gators past Mustangs in Section 2 clash
When the Plum and Gateway varsity boys basketball teams meet, there are a couple of things fans almost always see.
Usually, the student sections from both schools will be wild and crazy with creative chants and enthusiastic support for their team.
And the Mustangs and Gators will play an intense game down to the wire.
That was the case Friday at Gateway's Furrie Sports Complex in a key early-season battle between rivals in Section 2-AAAA.
Almost 32 minutes of action came down to one final shot, and Gateway junior Shomari Thomas became the hero of the night. His off-balance shot from the right wing went in with 1.5 seconds on the clock, and it proved to be the game winner in the Gators' 38-36 victory.
“I wanted to take the last shot because I was confident I could make it,” said Thomas, who received a pass from senior point guard D.J. Boyce.
“Everybody wants to be the one to make a play like that for the team. Whoever has the best look should take the shot.”
The win put Gateway at 4-0 overall, and the Gators closed out the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule 3-0 in section play.
The loss to Gateway was Plum's fourth of the season in its first six games, and all four losses were one-possession games with less than a minute to play. The Mustangs now are 1-2 in section play.
Plum was able to rebound from the loss to the Gators with a big defensive effort in a 37-21 nonconference victory over Valley the next day.
Last year, Gateway beat Plum, 54-51, at the Furrie Sports Complex on a last-second 3-pointer from graduate Luke Kochka. The shot came after the Gators went into stall mode and drained almost three minutes off the fourth-quarter clock.
It was nearly déjà vu all over again Friday, as the Gators gained possession and Boyce dribbled while standing still near midcourt. Two minutes ran off the clock before Gateway head coach Mitch Adams called a timeout with 12 seconds left in regulation.
Coming out of the timeout, Boyce started the play, and the ball ended up in Thomas' hands.
Plum's defense didn't come up to challenge Boyce, something acting head coach Bobby Franklin Sr. said was done to protect several Mustangs players who were in foul trouble.
“We wanted to keep our best players on the floor and make sure they were able to still play if we went into overtime,” he said. “(Thomas) made the shot. You have to give him credit.”
Franklin Sr. took over for Ron Richards, who was suspended one game after receiving two technical fouls and an ejection from the loss to McKeesport three nights earlier.
“In this section, all the games seem to finish like this,” he said. “But it's a learning process in these early games. We have guys growing into new positions. It's still early in the season, so we'll keep fighting.”
Thomas finished with eight points. He also nailed a 3-pointer to beat the first-quarter buzzer, as the Gators led 13-7 after the first eight minutes.
Gateway's biggest lead of the game was six points, and the Gators held a 32-26 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
Plum took the lead for the first time in the contest with 5:24 left on a pair of free throws from senior Andrew Dawson.
The Mustangs got the ball back, but turnovers on consecutive possessions turned into layups from Boyce and senior Deon Baker to give Gateway the lead back at 36-34 with 2:30 to go. Junior Austin Dedert responded for Plum with a dunk at 2:15 to tie the game at 36 and set up the late drama.
Baker led the Gators with 14 points and six rebounds, and Boyce added eight points.
Plum had two players in double figures. Dedert scored 15, including six points in the fourth quarter, while senior Griffin Myers added 10.
Both teams went to the foul line 23 times, but Gateway converted only four of its free shots. Plum, on the other hand, connected on 17 of its 23 attempts. The Mustangs were 6 of 7 from the foul line in the fourth, while the Gators were 0 for 6.
“Plum is a tough team that loves to compete and play hard,” Gateway junior Tommy Kromka said.
“They really run their system well. We just have to step up and hit our foul shots. We didn't do it, but we managed to get the win, and that's the important thing.”
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at email@example.com.