Though it’s only the second week of January, the atmosphere Friday at Laureldale was that of the postseason as Muhlenberg handed Berks Catholic its first loss in a thrilling Berks Conference Division I-II game.
J’Daniel Mosquera made two free throws with 1.6 seconds left to lift the Muhls to a 48-46 victory over the Saints.
“It’s a huge win and Coach (Matt Flowers) said it was a ‘must win’ going into next week,” said Muhlenberg’s Xzavion Robertson, who scored a game-high 24 points. “And we just really needed this win, so I’m glad we got it.”
A hard-fought game with few turnovers culminated in a turbulent final two minutes that saw critical mistakes made by both sides.
With less than a minute left and the home crowd roaring, Luis Valentin stole the ball from the Saints’ Ryan Koch and drove for a basket to give Muhlenberg (3-2 Berks I, 8-5) a 46-42 lead.
“When the crowd is energized the whole team is energized,” Valentin said. “We love it. Muhlenberg is back.”
Berks Catholic’s Josiah Jordan got the Saints (5-1 Berks II, 12-1) within 46-44 when he made two free throws with 36 seconds left.
Things got even more interesting as Valentin was called for a five-second violation on the ensuing inbounds play. The Saints then turned it over on their inbounds pass before Valentin walked while inbounding for his second straight violation.
“Coach always tells us to stay poised, trust each other, trust the brotherhood and just stay together,” Robertson said regarding the final minute.
On Berks Catholic’s next possession, Jordan drove to the basket and put back his own miss to tie it at 46-46.
With the clock winding down, Mosquera was fouled near the top of the key. He converted both free throws to break the tie.
“We just got to play smarter basketball,” Saints coach Snip Esterly said. “But it was a good game for us on the road. It’s tough playing on the road, and it was tougher playing there (Laureldale) tonight than it was up in Abington (Heights last week) because the crowd got into it. And that’s good, we need that.
“We were just so slow. Ryan (Koch) gets stripped from the back. That was key, that was a four-point swing (to make it 46-42).”
Berks Catholic’s Jack Miller got off a deep 3-pointer as time expired, but the shot bounced off the rim, sealing it for Muhlenberg.
“I’m just really proud of these guys; they stuck together,” Flowers said. “They worked hard the past two days and today is the exclamation point.”
The Muhls held the Saints to close to 20 points under their scoring average of 65.7 points.
Muhlenberg used zone coverage frequently to try to limit Berks Catholic’s top scorers and 3-point production. The Saints came in averaging seven 3-pointers per game and finished with four.
Jordan scored a team-high 20 points, but Koch, who was averaging 15.3 points per game, finished with nine. Joshua McKoy, who had 10 first-half points for the Saints, was held scoreless in the second.
“We haven’t shown it (zone coverage) a lot, but when we looked back on our film from last year against them and watched a couple games from this year, we had to stop Josiah from going downhill,” Flowers said. “Our strength all summer and fall was that we played really good zones. So let’s play zones to slow him down.
“Our game plan was to take their shooters away. You know if they get the ball in the middle, I’ll be okay with them getting the ball in the middle. But we took their shooters away and I thought they did a really good job of that.”
The Muhls led 27-22 after the first half but were outscored 13-9 in the third.
For Esterly said he believes his team will learn from its mistakes and use the game as a stepping stone for improvement.
“Sometimes when you’re on a winning streak you might take some things for granted, like you might screw around a little more at practice,” Esterly said. “Conrad Weiser woke us up a month ago. Hopefully, this will wake us up again.”
For Flowers, the performance was a sign of a strong offense fueled by Robertson.
“He’s explosive,” Flowers said. “He’s explosive. He gets downhill when he wants. He’s knocking the 3-ball down right now. And when he’s getting downhill, they gotta collapse. We got multiple shooters on this basketball team that can score when they collapse.”
Source: Berkshire mont
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