Northeastern's magic runs out in PIAA semifinals
Find out who had the best plays from around GameTimePA.com this week in the various PIAA tournaments. Video by Lizi Arbogast, GameTimePA.com
ALTOONA — After their history-making season ended here, the Northeastern Bobcats came out one by one to a waiting ovation from a couple dozen fans.
The Meadville Bulldogs had already celebrated their PIAA Class 5A semifinal victory, their supporters from near Erie rushing the court and throwing Hershey kisses everywhere.
The janitors started sweeping up.
The lights went down in this high school gym.
Senior Austin Greene limped out on what appeared to be a gimpy ankle as the tears finally started to flow.
And everyone, from coach Jon Eyster to the last one out of the locker room, star guard Fred Mulbah, was still trying to put this 56-49 defeat into some kind of perspective.
Northeastern had just completed a most spectacular run with a district title and a 30-3 record. They completed one of the most memorable comebacks in PIAA quarterfinal history, for sure, erasing a 15-point deficit to win in double overtime.
No one seemed to know quite what to make of a night when most everything they are known for went strangely wrong. Those clutch 3-point shots from Antonio Rizzuto and Nate Wilson? None to be found. Those twisting layups from seniors Austin Greene and Brandon Coleman? They just wouldn't fall.
Even when the Bobcats frantically pulled to a tie late in the third quarter ... even when Meadville supreme scorer Armoni Foster fouled out with nearly the entire fourth quarter to play ... Northeastern just couldn't find the answer so many expected.
Afteward, Eyster wouldn't use the excuse of being tired, of his shooters not having their legs. Instead, he would focus on how proud he was of his team.
"I thought we got good shots that we just missed," Eyster said. "I don't think it was because we played a game a day-and-a-half ago. Maybe (it was) the moment? Maybe their defense was that good and bothered us."
"It was a punch in the face," he added a bit later. "My guys didn't play composed for the whole game. It was hard to get their attention. We were just never mentally in the game. What are you going to do?"
For some reason, "Our first five guys were never really comfortable tonight."
Northeastern's offense struggled to click after a quick start. The Bobcats led for the entire first first quarter, until being tied at the buzzer. But they could never truly find themselves against a relentless and physical Meadville defense led by future Penn State tailback Journey Brown.
Northeastern's Fred Mulbah scored a team-high 21 points.
The junior said it would be difficult to soak in the wonder of the season for a while. But at least he will get another shot to try and lead his team one game further next year.
Greene and fellow senior Brandon Coleman just played their final high school games.
"Frustrated, there's a lot of emotions," Mulbah said. "I can't really describe it. ... My best friends graduating, the last time playing with them. That's a big one."
Then he walked out into that darkened gym with his waiting fans.
There would be cheers and hugs and a long bus ride home to let the heartache and the triumphs all soak in together.
On Thursday, Northeastern's Fred Mulbah hosted GameTimePA.com's Snapchat Takeover. Video by Lizi Arbogast, GameTimePA.com