The Jackson Memorial High School and Jackson Liberty High School boys’ basketball teams on Jan. 11 had all of that and much more in what will go down as another great chapter in the cross-town rivalry.
When it was done after one OT period, Jackson Memorial gained the bragging rights—and the victory– with a 55-52 decision at Jackson Liberty’s court.
The Jaguars were leading by a count of 46-43 with nine seconds left to play in regulation, before senior Bryce Bailey of Jackson Liberty sent the game into overtime, banking in a three-pointer from the top of the keep to knot the game up at 46-46.
However, Jackson Memorial didn’t panic— and got the job done in overtime. Senior Matt Mahala was able to knock down big free-throw attempts down the stretch and junior Sean Slusak hit a big basket to start overtime to help the Jaguars outlast their rival and improve to 6-2 on the season.
“We have been preaching composure since day one,” said Jackson Memorial coach Kevin McQuade. “It was gut check time for us. The rivalry game played into that. They battled hard. Matt (Mahala) and Sean (Slusak) made some big shots for us. Everybody on the team chipped in to get the win.”
For Jackson Liberty, the loss marked its fourth straight and dropped the Lions to 1-6 on the season.
The Lions are not focusing on their record and are putting their full mindset on continuing to improve throughout the season, so they can right place for a strong wrong come postseason play.
“We have to learn how to play with the same enthusiasm as we did in this game,” said Jackson Liberty coach Michael Antenucci. “We’re just going to play one game at a time and not worry what our record is. We need to bring that same type of effort into each game and hopefully get some wins.”
Mahala made only one free-throw in his first trip to the line with 2:38 left to play, but Slusak bailed his teammate out by getting the offensive rebound of the miss with a great box out and then knocked home the layup to extend the Jackson Memorial lead to 49-46.
Slusak finished with 12 points in the contest, hitting a big bucket with under a minute to play to give Jackson Memorial a 44-43 lead at the time.
Mahala went two-of-two at the line with 14.8 second left in regulation to make it a three-point game.
“Rebounds were key in this game,” Slusak said. “It was a whole team effort to win this game and I am proud to be a part of this team.”
Mahala knocked home two successful free-throw attempts with 23.8 seconds left in overtime that extended the Jackson Memorial lead to 54-47.
The senior went five-of-eight from the strike in overtime and finished with a team-high 19 points in the victory.
“It comes down to focus,” Mahala said. “We’re able to hit shots and make plays down the stretch to win the game. Coach (McQuade) came up with a good game plan and we executed it. That’s what it came down to.”
Bailey tried to mount a comeback for the Lions in the final 20 seconds. The senior went hard to the basket for the layup and drew the foul, completing the three-point play moments later to cut the Jackson Memorial lead to 54-50 with 17.1 seconds to play.
To help the Lions take a 26-20 lead into the half, Bailey scored nine points in a second quarter where his squad outscored Jackson Memorial, 13-2.
Bailey finished with a game-high 25 points in the victory. Suffering a sprain ankle injury during the team’s first scrimmage of the season, Bailey has seen limited minutes on the court for the most part to start the season.
Antenucci has been very happy with how hard Bailey has worked to get back on the court and with his play against Jackson Memorial.
“He waited for his opportunity and made the most of it,” Antenucci said. “He did everything a coach wants from a player returning from injury to do. He kept working hard in practice and waited for his chance to shine.”
Junior Caden Brooks went one-of-two from the strike to extend the Jackson Memorial lead to five with 14.8 seconds to play.
Great defense by the Jaguars limited the Lions to only get a shot off with time expiring to hang for their second straight victory,
Jackson Memorial forced two Jackson Liberty in the final minute of the contest. The Jaguars have only given up over 60 points once so far this season.
“One thing that gets overshadowed for us is how good we have been defensively this season,” McQuade said. “If we rebound the ball better, our defense sticks out much more. We want to be a basketball team at the end of the season that no one wants to play. We have to keep taking those baby steps throughout the season to get there. Games are won in practice.”
Senior Billy Patrina scored 10 points to give Jackson Memorial three players in double figures.
Senior Manny Clay finished with 10 points for the Lions.
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