LAWRENCE — Gone are the days when St. John’s Prep used to be content with merely being competitive against Division 1 basketball powerhouse Central Catholic.
Ever since the 2010-11 season, when the Prep knocked off Central twice en route to its lone state championship in the program’s history, the Eagles have treated every meeting with the Raiders as a winnable game.
That was the case again yesterday, but in a classic fight-and-scratch game that you’d hope to see from two strong teams late in the regular season, Central Catholic senior Tyler Nelson drilled a three-pointer with under a minute remaining to snap a 57-57 tie and the Raiders hung on for a 63-60 win before the usual capacity crowd here.
Nelson’s game-changing shot came after St. John’s (13-4) had erased a 57-51 deficit in the late stages on back-to-back threes by Ben Judson and junior point guard Kareem Davis, who tied it with 60 seconds left.
There was no hesitation by Nelson (20 points) after that. He created space for himself and let it fly. It’s something that the Fairfield-bound guard has been doing for four years.
“We don’t call a play for Tyler there — he just goes (and improvises),” said Central Catholic (14-4) coach Rick Nault. “This is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from Nelson. He’s a senior leader who’s been in a lot of big games and who’s won a lot of big games for us.
“They gave us the kind of game we thought it would be,” Nault said of the Prep. “They’re incredibly well-coached with great players. I said to my guys before the game that we go into a lot of games where we say, okay, we can win three out of five matchups (in the starting lineup). But not against the Prep. You look at our personnel and their personnel and it’s a tossup.”