ROCKLAND, Mass. — Michael Downing made a promise to his teammates at halftime to be a factor in the final 16 minutes of the Div. 3 South quarter-finals after early foul trouble kept him on the bench in the first half.
The 6-foot senior guard was chomping at the bit to get back into action as the back-and-forth matchup between Cardinal Spellman and Rockland started to get real interesting in the fourth quarter. Downing returned in a big way defensively, as he came up with three steals in the fourth quarter, and the game-saving block at the buzzer to help the No. 5 Cardinals (19-5) down No. 4 Rockland, 62-60, in the final game ever in the “Dog Pound” at Joseph Cogan Memorial Gymnasium.
The exuberance of the moment was all over an emotional Downing’s face after the game, as the Cardinals will now move on to play Wareham in the Div. 3 South semifinals.
“I really felt I let my team down,” said Downing. “I felt that if I could get back in the game then I’m not going to let them down again. I knew that I had to help my team win this game. We are all brothers on this team and we had to do it for everybody.”
The Cardinals were in the midst of a 10-2 run when Downing came up with a big theft at center court and raced down for a lay-in to cut the deficit to 56-55. Downing picked off a Bulldogs (19-3) pass on the next possession and got the ball to Paul Preziosi, who was fouled and sent to the line.
Preziosi hit both of his free throws to give the Cardinals a one-point lead with four minutes remaining left in the ball game.
“We got a couple turnovers off their guards, which helped us out in that little bit of a run,” said Cardinals head coach Mike Perry. “I was happy with the way they played tonight.”
Downing kept his best defensive stand for last. Joey Glynn missed two free throws that would have sealed the game with 4.9 seconds remaining in the game. Ricky Witt grabbed the rebound and tried to get a halfcourt shot off that would win the game at the buzzer, but the lengthy Downing got his hand on is and swatted the ball away to secure the victory.
“When I tipped that ball and I knew that game was over I honestly wanted to cry,” said Downing.
Free Throws a Factor: Fred Damon didn’t want his season to end at the free throw line, but that’s exactly where it did. The Bulldogs were 10-of-26 from the line and missed several clutch free throws.
Tyler Gibson scored 15 points and grabbed 13 rebounds on the night, and was a major reason why the Bulldogs were able to build an 11-point lead in the third quarter. However, he struggled with free throws all night, going 1-for-10 from the line and missing two that would have tied the game in the game’s final seconds.
“It’s a very simple game,” said Damon. “I told them that we didn’t want to end the season on missed free throws.”
End of an Era in Rockland: People showed up in packs to get into the “Dog Pound” for its last game, and on the walk into the gym people were leaving before the game with sad looks on their face as police and security had to cut off the crowd with bodies seemingly in every inch of the gymnasium.
The Cardinals seemed to weather the storm, but with the inbounds near the Bulldogs’ fan section, some Cardinals players could feel the the Bulldogs faithful doing their best Cameron Crazies impressions.
“It was really tough because the fans were right there,” said Glynn. “It was tough.”