After erasing a 13-point halftime deficit, the Archbishop Wood High School boys’ basketball team came away with a 65-58 win over Neumann-Goretti High School in the Philadelphia Catholic League Finals on Feb. 27.
Wood’s 13-point comeback in the second half to win it all was the largest in PCL Boys’ Basketball Championship history. This comeback surpassed Neumann-Goretti’s eight-point second half comeback win in the 1997 finals over Archbishop Carroll High School.
It was the Vikings’ first PCL boys’ basketball championship victory since joining the league 51 years ago, and it came in front of a full capacity crowd at the Palestra. The game came down to the wire, with seven lead changes in the final ten minutes.
Trailing 31-18 at halftime to NG, hope looked bleak for the Wood Vikings. Quade Green, a University of Kentucky signee, was rolling for the Saints, having scored 13 points in the first half. Wood’s senior star Collin Gillespie, a Villanova University signee, struggled in the opening two frames, where he was held to just two points.
“[At halftime] we just told them settle down, make shots and relax,” Vikings’ head coach John Mosco said during a post-game interview.
Coach Mosco’s words at the half must have hit home with the Vikings, who went on an 11-2 run in the first four minutes of the third quarter.
“We got the ball moving early in the third quarter. We were static in the first half and we weren’t getting good shots. So in the third quarter, we preached move the ball and get stops on the defensive end,” Gillespie said after the game Feb. 27.
The 11-2 run was sparked by a three-point basket from senior Matt Cerutti on Wood’s first possession of the third quarter. After a defensive stop for the Vikings, junior Tyree Pickron connected on his own trifecta at the 7:03 mark to cut the Saints’ lead to 31-24. Pickron’s three sent the Archbishop Wood crowd into frenzy.
“We just kept battling. Our team, we were down, but we knew if we kept playing we were going to get here. And that’s what we did. We’ve got some of the best players in the league, the MVP of the league, so we never doubted ourselves. And our coaches just keep pushing us, told us play our game, we’ll be back in it, and we were,” Cerruti said after the game Feb. 27.
Junior Marcus Littles responded to Pickron’s three-pointer by scoring a layup for the Saints. However, Gillespie answered with a layup of his own for the Vikings. Then, after a Neumann-Goretti possession that resulted in no points, Pickron connected on another three-pointer, this time cutting the Saints’ lead to 33-29.
Junior Noah Warren offset Pickron by hitting a three of his own for the Saints, but Cerruti made a layup on the other end to keep the Vikings within five.
Sophomore Mike Milsip was fouled on the next offensive trip for the Saints, but he made just one of two foul shots.
Cerruti followed up Milsip’s free throw attempts with a baseline floater for Archbishop Wood, cutting the Saints lead to 37-33 with 4:30 left in the third quarter. Cerruti played well offensively throughout the third quarter, a period in which he scored 10 points.
“Matt is a senior, he just came here to play basketball. Matt has loved to play every day. He just works. He just shoots the ball. He just does whatever we ask. If we ask him to rebound and guard Dha Dha [Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree], guard a big, guard Quade, he does everything,” coach Mosco said.
After Cosby-Roundtree traveled on the successive Neumann-Goretti possession, Cerruti came down the lane and made another layup for the Vikings, this time cutting the Saints lead to 37-35.
“I was just trying to help my team win and the shots were falling. They kept feeding me, feeding the hot hand and I was hitting it. But all the credit to my teammates and my coaches,” Cerruti said.
Just ten seconds after Cerruti’s layup, which cut the Saint’s lead to under three for the first time since the game’s opening nine seconds, Cosby-Roundtree made an emphatic put-back slam over a Vikings defender. The rim-rattling dunk brought everyone in the Neumann-Goretti students’ section to their feet, and it gave the Saints a 39-35 lead. Warren followed up the dunk with a layup that pushed the Saints lead to 41-35 with three minutes left in the third.
Pickron had an answer for the Vikings, which came in the form of a three-point jumper from the left corner. Wood’s junior Seth Pinkney then rejected Cosby-Roundtree’s low-post shot on the other end of the court, which setup a fast break layup for Gillespie. That basket made the score 41-40 in favor of the Saints, which forced Neumann-Goretti to take a timeout at the 1:57 mark in the third.
The Saints turned the ball over on the play out of their timeout, and Cerruti drew a foul when he drove to the basket for a layup. He eHwent one for two from the charity stripe and tied the game 41-41 at the 1:29 clip in the third quarter. This was the first time since Neumann-Goretti’s opening possession that the contest was tied.
Gillespie then made a runner in the paint with 15 seconds left in the third quarter to give the Vikings their first lead of the game. After a Saints’ turnover on transition, Cerruti drove to the basket, with the clock winding down, and banked in a layup off the glass right around when the game-clock was expiring. However, the referees waived the basket off, and the Vikings went into the fourth quarter leading 43-41
Neumann-Goretti opened the final quarter on a high note, as freshman Ahmad Fair was fouled on a put back attempt. He sank both free throws to tie the game 43-43 with 7:38 to go. Following an empty Vikings’ possession, Cosby-Roundtree made a layup, off of an assist from Quade Green, to once again put the Saints ahead 45-43.
With ice in his veins, Gillespie countered Cosby-Roundtree’s basket with a contested three point shot from the left corner. To the delight of the Archbishop Wood students’ section, Gillespie swished the fall away to put his team back on top 46-45 with 6:35 remaining.
Cosby-Roundtree was fouled on the next Saint’s possession, but he missed both of his free throws. He had a chance to redeem himself, however, when he was fouled after an offensive rebound at the 4:48 mark in the fourth. Shooting a one-and-one, he connected on both attempts and put the Saints ahead 47-46.
Once again, however, Gillespie had a retort as he knocked down a step back three pointer to put Wood back ahead 49-47 with 4:13 left. Green, who was otherwise quiet in the second half, followed up Gillespie’s shot with an old fashioned three-point play. After powering through contact and finishing a contested layup on the left side of the basket, Green converted at the free throw line to give the Saints a 50-49 with 4:02 on the clock.
The Saints’ next defensive trip, however, proved to be a costly one. Pinkney misfired on a shot from the low post and clanked it off the back iron, but Cosby-Roundtree inadvertently touched the rim, forcing the referees to call basket interference. The basket counted, and the Vikings had a 51-50 lead with just 3:38 to go. It was an unfortunate break for the Saints because the ball likely would not have gone in, even if Cosby-Roundtree had not committed the violation.
Green missed a baseline runner on Neumann-Goretti’s next possession, and Gillespie was then fouled on a layup attempt. Gillespie knocked down two free throws to give the Vikings a 53-50 lead, their largest advantage up to that point, with 2:52 left.
With a chance to keep his team in the game, Green forced a pass into the paint, which resulted in a Saints turnover. On the other end, Pinkney made a layup off of a put back and the Wood crowd erupted as the Vikings opened up a 55-50 lead. This forced the Saints to take a timeout, as head coach Carl Arrigale may have sensed the game was slipping away from his players.
Out of the timeout, Green missed a three and Gillespie scored a layup on the other end, this time extending the Vikings lead to 57-50 at the 1:40 mark. Green was able to find his shot on the next possession, connecting on a pull up jumper to cut the lead to 57-52 with just 90 seconds remaining.
The Saints were forced to play the foul game, but they were successful initially as both Gillespie and junior Andrew Funk missed the front end of their one-and-one attempts.
However, Gillespie eventually found his stroke from the charity stripe. On a double bonus attempt with just 48 seconds to go, he went two for two to give his team a 59-54 lead. Then, with 22.3 second reaming, Gillespie went to the line with a chance to seal the deal for Archbishop Wood.
“I was just thinking this is what I’m made for. I believed at the line that I was going to knock those down,” Gillespie said. He connected on both free throws to give the Vikings a 63-58 advantage.
Archbishop Wood held on to the lead in the game’s closing moments and came away with the 65-58 victory.
“When the clock was running down and Collin was at the foul line, I kind of looked around and saw the whole crowd, the student section cheering. I started smiling. It’s the greatest feeling I’ve had in my life,” Cerruti said.
After seventeen years of waiting, coach Mosco finally got to celebrate a PCL Championship.
“The whole year has been a bunch of up and down stuff and craziness,” coach Mosco said.
Gillespie finished as the games’ leading scorer with 24 points, 22 of which came in the second half.
“All of our guys, one to twelve, I love all of them. They’re all my guys. They got us going, and when they get going it opens things up for me and helps me. I’m just so excited right now we won. We worked so hard for it,” Gillespie said.
(Photo Credit: Wave Lane)