Pictured above: The NEPA Elite 17U Coyle boys team finished 4-0 in Atlantic City. (Tom Robinson Photo)
By Tom Robinson, NEPAElite.com
ATLANTIC CITY – Tommy Dempsey was not interested in mercy.
What the NEPA Elite 15U boys coach wanted most was time – enough of it for his team to complete the rally that he felt was coming.
The running clock of the Mercy Rule is a necessary element to the multi-game days of AAU basketball tournaments.
Most games when they reach a 20-point margin have been decided.
Dempsey could sense otherwise Friday afternoon when his team could have been forgiven for looking for its fastest way out of Atlantic City on its way to the final stop of the season, which begins Saturday at Spooky Nook.
“I knew we weren’t dead,” Dempsey said after NEPA Elite recovered from a 20-point deficit in a 55-54 victory over Mass Rivals in a 15U Platinum 2 Division losers’ bracket game to wrap up The Hoop Group’s Atlantic City Jam Fest.
The first step in the comeback was getting the margin back to 12 or lower to bring in normal timing rules instead of the continued running clock.
“It’s like watching sands through the hour glass,” Dempsey said of watching the clock and checking the timing rules as he implored his team to hurry and cut into the deficit to leave enough time to complete the rally.
After falling behind 20 to invoke the running clock with just under 12 minutes remaining, NEPA Elite quickly got back within 14 twice before the lead grew again each time.
Nate Aviles scored on a drive with four minutes left to make it 52-40 and return things to normal. It was Aviles who then completed the comeback by hitting both ends of a one-and-one with 6.4 seconds left.
“I knew that we were bothering them with our full-court trap and half-court trap,” Dempsey said. “It was just about us getting it going on offense.
“They were struggling with our half-court press, but then we would miss shots.”
Jordan Shaffer put a stop to that.
Shaffer scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the last 5:12. He also finished with seven rebounds and three second-half steals.
Mass Rivals led 52-33 before Shaffer hit a 19-footer from the right side and Dempsey called timeout.
When the teams returned to the floor, NEPA Elite continued what became a 20-0 run to take the lead.
Shaffer had 13 of the points while Andrew Kettel had 5.
The comeback picked up momentum when Brody Martin deflected a pass on the first possession after the timeout and Kettel came up with the ball and fed Shaffer for a 3-pointer.
Aviles drove to make it 52-40 and change the rules under which the teams were playing.
NEPA Elite did not stop there.
Kettel hit a 3-pointer off an Aviles steal and feed then took a pass from Shaffer and scored on a left-handed reverse layup to make it 52-45.
Shaffer scored the next eight points on a drive with 2:45 left, a 3-pointer from 22 feet with 1:22 remaining after a Martin steal and then his own steal and drive for the go-ahead, three-point play with 58.5 seconds remaining.
Mass Rivals went back in front with 36 seconds left and NEPA Elite called timeout with 28.7 seconds left to set up the final play.
Aviles got fouled on another strong drive to the basket, then hit the tying and go-ahead free throws.
NEPA Elite did not let Mass Rivals get off a shot following the final timeout with 5.8 seconds to go.
Shaffer was 12-for-21 from the floor, 3-for-8 on 3-pointers and 1-for-1 at the line.
Kettel went 4-for-6 while scoring 11 points.
NEPA Elite shot 13-for-18 (72.2 percent) in the second half.
Ayden Agapito grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots.
Shaffer and Kettel are from Abington Heights. Aviles is from Dunmore, Martin from Scranton Prep and Agapito from Crestwood.
The Dempsey team’s effort was not the only dramatic win.
The 17U Coyle team came from 12 down to win in overtime as part of a 3-1 effort by club teams on the last of three days in Atlantic City before heading to Spooky Nook for the season-ending Hoop Group Summer Jam Fest at Spooky Nook in Manheim.
A recap of Friday’s other games:
NEPA Elite 17U Coyle
NEPA Elite finished 4-0 in the 17U Hoop Group Showcase League games that filled its Atlantic City schedule when Ryan Nealon and Mikey Cumbo led the team through overtime to a 65-60 victory over Epic Elite.
Playing in the Elam Ending format where the first team to score five overtime points wins, Mason Fedor tied up a rebound on the defensive end to stop the Epic Elite on the first possession.
Nealon then hit a go-ahead 3-pointer from the left wing.
Epic Ellite never got another shot.
Cumbo tipped a pass and Nealon came up with the steal. Cumbo then drove to the basket for the game-ending score.
NEPA Elite placed four scorers in double figures for the third straight game.
Fedor led the way with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
Nealon and Connor Cranage each scored 12 points and made other contributions. Nealon had six assists, five rebounds and two steals. Cranage came off the bench to provide six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Cumbo had 10 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals.
Oliver Almonte also grabbed five rebounds to contribute to a 38-31 advantage on the boards.
Epic Elite broke away from a first-half tie with 11 straight points, then answered a Nealon drive with a 3-pointer to take a 35-23 lead with 2:27 left in the half.
Daniel Santaniello’s three-point play started a streak of eight straight NEPA Elite points, including a spin move in the lane by Nealon, who then hit a 3-pointer.
NEPA Elite did not move in front again until a 10-0 run midway through the second half.
Cranage had three steals and drives to the basket in a span of 1:17, including two that were part of the 10-point streak.
Fedor came up with a loose rebound in the lane and converted for the lead. Ricky Vinansky did the same, then Nealon fed Cumbo running with him on a fastbreak to make it 55-50 with 4:23 to go.
NEPA Elite forced 12 turnovers and allowed just 12 shots in the first 11:45 of the half, outscoring Epic Elite, 22-13, in the process.
Epic Elite led for just 19 seconds the rest of the way.
Almonte’s spin move in the lane made it 59-58 heading into the final minute and, after a Cumbo steal, he made one of two free throws.
Epic Elite tied the game on a fast-break basket with seven seconds left, forcing overtime.
Nealon and Fedor are from Abington Heights. Cumbo is from Dallas, Cranage from Blue Ridge, Almonte from Scranton, Santaniello from Scranton Prep and Vinansky from Mid Valley.
NEPA Elite 17U Frank
NEPA Elite finished 2-2 in the 17U Gold Division by beating NorthStar Naturals, 40-33, in an early morning game.
Chris Chandler and Connor Cranage led the team to victory.
Chandler is from Scranton.
NEPA Elite 16U Tillery
New World HGSL defeated NEPA Elite, 55-53, in a 16U Platinum 2 Division losers’ bracket game.
NEPA Elite made nine 3-pointers in the loss.
Brycen Martin scored 17 points, Jaheam Roberts added 14 and Brayden Moran scored 10. Martin had four of the 3-pointers while Roberts and Moran each made two.
Martin is from Scranton Prep, Roberts from Scranton and Moran from Holy Cross.