When Evan Springer launched a 3-point attempt from in front of his bench as time expired Wednesday night, it seemed destined to go in. Six treys had already fallen for Springer including four in the fourth quarter to erase a double-digit deficit and bring Eastern York within two. Now Springer needed one more to upset Northeastern and push the Golden Knights' win streak to 11 games.
Springer had a good look, but his potential lucky No. 7 rimmed out, allowing Northeastern — the third-ranked team in District 3 AAAA — to escape Eastern with a 71-69 win.
"He had a lot of wide-open shots so we didn't want to let him get one at the end," Northeastern senior Kobi Nwandu said of Springer. "We knew he was hot. And he still had a chance to make it and win the game, so we can't let that happen next time."
While Springer was hot for Eastern, the Bobcats countered with Fred Mulbah, who finished with 19 points. The sophomore drew praise from his upperclassmen after he scored 11 of his 19 in the second quarter when the Bobcats turned a three-point deficit into an eight-point lead heading into the half.
"He's a great player," Nwandu said of Mulbah. "He's going to be really great when he gets a little older. He does what he can. He attacks the basket well and can knock down an open shot. We knew his talent level."
Northeastern pushed the lead to 12 midway through the third before allowing Eastern to make its move.
"We knew they were a hot team," Nwandu said. "They're playing really well right now and we knew it was going to be a tough game so we just had to fight through it...It's always good to have a close game. You don't want to blow out every team. You need to practice finishing down the stretch, which I think we did poorly tonight...It's always good to have a close game, but we won and that's all that matters."
Broguen Nicholas, who finished with a game-high 21 points, scored 12 in a row for Eastern to close the third quarter, but the Golden Knights still trailed 56-49. Enter Springer. The junior hit three straight from beyond the arc to open the fourth and Eastern's crowd, which had been loud all night, erupted.
"We make a joke (to Springer) that we pay him big money to shoot the three," Eastern head coach Jon Reichard said of Springer. "He's a little reserved...But when he hit that first one his whole demeanor changed. He looked at me, and I was like 'He's got it.'"
Springer hit a fourth 3-pointer, cutting the lead to one, then scored on a backdoor cut after Mulbah hit a tough shot in the lane at the other end. Up by two with 13 seconds left, Mulbah missed two free throws and Reichard drew up a play for the win. The ball would go to Springer. He had the hot hand.
"I was just praying that it wouldn't go in," Mulbah said of seeing the shot leave Springer's hands.
Despite the loss, Eastern's locker room was upbeat rather than somber. The Golden Knights were proud to be in that position and to be coming off a 10-game winning streak, Reichard said, and now their focus turns to their next opponent.
"We have aspirations for postseason play," Reichard said. "We were talking immediately about our next game as soon as we got in there."
Northeastern 71, Eastern York 69
Fred Mulbah 8 2-4 19, Donovian Maxfield 5 2-2 17, Kobi Nwandu 5 3-5 15, Coleman 3 0-0 8, Reynolds 3 3-5 9, Zirkle 1 0-0 2, Rizzuto 0 1-2 1. Totals — 25 11-18 71.
Eastern York (69)
Evan Springer 7 0-0 20, Broguen Nicholas 5 6-7 21, Jared Achterberg 8 0-1 16, Woods 3 2-2 8, Particelli 1 2-4 4, Kalke 0 0-0 0, Wisler 0 0-0 0. Totals — 24 10-14 69.
Northeastern_ 11_ 24 _ 21 _ 15 _ — _ 71
Eastern York_ 14 _ 13 _ 22 _ 20 _ — _ 69
3-point goals — NE 10 (Maxfield 5, Nwandu 2, Coleman 2, Mulbah), EY 9 (Springer 6, Nicholas 3).