The Bobcats indeed took it to the wire in their District 3 Class AAA consolation round game against Boiling Springs, but Eyster's bunch had just enough left in the tank: They emerged with a 68-64 victory that earned them a berth in the PIAA playoffs.
Northeastern (18-8) will play Bishop McDevitt (18-7) on Thursday at a site and time to be announced for fifth place.
"It's great," Eyster said. "I don't know who would have predicted that the Bobcats would be going to the state playoffs this year at the beginning of this season. These kids have done what I've asked them to, and they've been able to win these games."
Khalid Nwandu (23 points) and Braheem Riley (22 points) paced the action. Riley was the setup man, knocking down seven straight field goals to end the first half. Nwandu was the closer, coming up with two huge baskets in the waning minutes.
"It feels awesome," Riley said. "My goal this year was to get me and my four seniors and the rest of my teammates to states again. We want to get farther this time."
Northeastern held the lead for much of the game, but Boiling Springs never allowed the Bobcats to be comfortable. Matters seemed firmly in hand with less than two minutes to go in the third quarter, when Nwandu's layup gave Northeastern a 50-40 lead, equaling the Bobcats' largest advantage of the night.
Boiling Springs responded to the 10-point deficit by refocusing its offensive attention in the paint, and the brother duo of Matt and Sam Gelber powered the Bubblers to a 14-1 run over the next 4:23. Matt Gelber's drive gave the Bubblers a lead, and then Sam Gelber's short turnaround jumper upped that advantage to 54-51 with 5:17 to go.
Nwandu evened things up with an old-fashioned three-point play, and the teams traded baskets for the next four minutes. Sam Gelber's layup with 1:07 to go put Boiling Springs back in front.
Nwandu promptly stole the momentum back. He took a hard fall while getting undercut on his layup with 50 seconds remaining, but he recovered to hit his free throw and complete the three-point play that put the Bobcats up 62-60.
Riley then made the big play on the defensive end, breaking up a Bubbler pass at midcourt. The turnover led to Derrick Hoffman's layup that made it 64-60 with 36 seconds to go, and the Bobcats went 4-for-4 from the stripe in the final seconds to ice the win.
"We rebounded at the end of the game and made free throws when they counted," Eyster said. "We didn't turn it over very much. We took care of the basketball, and for us, that's what it is."
The furious finish was preceded by plenty of action. Both teams started off hot from the floor: Boiling Springs went 6-for-7 from behind the arc in the first half, while Northeastern went 15-for-20 from inside the three-point line.
The result of that hot shooting was a entertaining first quarter that ended in an 18-18 tie. Northeastern's efficient offense eventually took control, piling on the layups to build a 29-19 lead. But Boiling Springs closed the half on a 13-6 spurt, closing the gap to 35-32.
Khalid Nwandu 9 5-7 23, Braheem Riley 10 2-3 22, Sprenkle 0 0-0 0, Coleman 0 0-0 0, Wade 0 0-0 0, Ko. Nwandu 3 0-0 6, Marshall 0 0-0 0, Maxfield 1 0-0 2, Eyster 1 0-0 3, Derrick Hoffman 4 4-6 12. Totals 28 11-16 68.
BOILING SPRINGS (64)
Lithgow 1 1-2 3, Sam Gebler 4 2-4 10, Matt Gebler 9 0-0 23, Keller 0 0-0 0, Wise 0 0-0 0, Austin Pettinger 3 5-6 12, McHenry 3 0-0 9, Conteras 3 1-4 7. Totals 23 9-16 64.
Northeastern 18 17 15 18 -- 68
Boiling Springs 18 17 11 21 -- 64
3-Point Goals: Northeastern 1 (Eyster 1), Boiling Springs 9 (M. Gebler 5, Mchenry 3, Pittenger 1).