LYNN — The Salem boys basketball team had the ball with 24 seconds on the clock, a timeout to draw up the winning play, and the Northeastern Conference Large title hanging in the balance.
Basketball is rarely that clean and simple, however.
Lynn Classical forced a loose ball on Salem’s final possession and a brief scramble ensued, ultimately leading to a Witches’ turnover with less than five seconds to play. As a result, Classical was able to run out the clock and hang on for a title-clinching 62-61 win.
Salem senior Jamie Dominguez dove on the loose ball and attempted to make a pass back out to a teammate from the floor. It appeared that a Lynn Classical player got his foot on the pass, sending the ball out of bounds all the way down the other end of the court.
Salem (14-5) coach Tommy Doyle called a timeout, believing his team was retaining possession with 3.5 seconds left. Some confusion ensued when the Witches learned the ball was awarded to Classical. Doyle had to quickly re-direct his team, but it hardly mattered as Salem would have needed a steal and a miracle shot.
“I tried to tell the kids that you can’t dwell on the last play. There were so many that mattered tonight, some great ones and some mistakes that we need to learn from,” Doyle said. “Classical is a very good team; they’ve got size and speed and shooters, so if you make too many mistakes against a team like that, you’re going to pay for it. Unfortunately, we were just one point short.”
Salem isn’t the type of program that hangs onto moral victories, but the Witches did mount an admirable second-half comeback that Doyle hopes his team can build from.
The Rams (13-4) were sizzling from the outside all night, drilling eight 3-pointers in the first half then extending their lead to 10 twice (50-40 and 52-42) in the third quarter.
The hot shooting pulled Salem out of its signature 3-2 zone. But the man-to-man defense the Witches switched to seemed to ignite something in them.
Salem closed the third quarter on an 11-2 run to cut the Classical lead to 52-51 heading into the fourth.
“It takes awhile to adjust when a team switches. It’s obvious that we kind of struggled to score (when they switched to man-to-man),” Classical coach Tom Grassa said. “When a team opens up in man against you, you gradually get better and better. A lot of times when a team starts in a zone and switches to man-to-man you say, ‘Oh, that’s our bread and butter.’ Well, it wasn’t tonight.”
Salem senior center David Kazadi was held scoreless in the first half, but he became a two-way force in the second half. He scored 11 of his 15 points in the third quarter and he was all over the court on defense. His play helped the Witches climb back into the game.
He also finished with 10 rebounds and was 5-for-5 from the free throw line. As a team, Salem was 15-for-15 from the charity stripe.
“They came out and shot the ball very well, which obviously we were hoping they wouldn’t do. They had a nice game plan and really played extremely well,” Doyle said. “It was a situation where we got down and made some adjustments and the kids were able to claw back into the game. We gave ourselves some chances and I’m really proud of the kids. They fought right to the buzzer and it was a great high school basketball game.”
Lynn Classical’s Eddie Solis was hot in the first half, connecting on four 3-pointers. He added one more three in the second half and two huge tip-ins in the fourth quarter. He finished with 21 points to lead all scorers.
Kyle Doucette (12 points) and Monte Wolfe (11) also hit double figures for the Rams. Salem held Classical’s Philip Rogers to just nine points.
Dominguez had 12 points and five assists for Salem, Bryan Martinez-Rodriguez chipped in 12 points and Rashad Keys scored 10 points, including a steal and a one-handed power dunk to pull the Witches within one point with 42 seconds left.
“This just shows what we can do and what we need to do more consistently,” Doyle said. “That’s what I told the guys; we have to learn from this because this was a tournament atmosphere against a great team.”