Bears Stun Knox in Thriller

B Basketball 2020
Scanlon in action earlier this season (PC: Bruce Jeffrey)

On Wednesday afternoon, the boys’ basketball team engineered one of the biggest upsets in recent memory by clipping two-time defending PSAA Champion Knox School, 71-68.

The Bears fell to the Falcons by 37 on January 8, meaning Wednesday’s victory was a 40-point turnaround between the two games. It is the Bears’ greatest point differential between a loss and a victory against the same opponent in the same season since taking down Greenport in the 2017 County Championship, 49-35, after losing to the Porters by 27 a month earlier–a swing of 41 points. The Bears engineered a 42-point swing when they topped Pierson 57-27 in the 2013 County Championship, though their 45-57 loss a week earlier was skewed when, regular season title in hand, the starters sat out to stay healthy for the county final.

It was also the Bears’ first win over the Falcons since Jan. 18, 2014, a 69-19 victory in Knox’s only season in Section XI. The Bears moved to the PSAA last season and found there a retooled Knox squad who beat the Bears by an average of 34.7 points in their first three PSAA match-ups. They bucked that recent history against their crosstown rivals by saddling them with just their fifth league loss in the last three years (30 games).

CJ Edwards opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, but the Falcons took over a 7-8 lead with a layup. A pair of T.J. Wachter free throws and a Matt Fajfer floater gave the Brook an 11-10 edge. Knox followed with a 3-pointer to retake a 13-11 advantage they would not relinquish until the closing moments of the first half. A pair of transition layups followed as the Falcons extended the lead to 17-11, but Owen Sobel threaded a beautiful pass to Rex Eshirow for a buzzer-beating layup to bring the Bears back within four points. The Bears’ leading scorer in the game had yet to score a point.

An Eshirow tip-in pulled the Brook within 15-17 in the opening moments of the second frame, but Knox answered with a 10-0 spurt to open the largest lead of the game at 27-15. In their first match-up with the Falcons, the game remained close throughout the first half, but a quick third quarter run felled the Brook. This time around, the Bears did not back down, instead answering with a 15-2 run to surge back into a 30-29 lead. It began with a pair of Sobel free throws and a Wachter layup and was punctuated by a 3-pointer from Edwards and two 3-pointers from Colin Scanlon. A muscular rebound and layup from Sobel capped the run. A pair of free throws gave Knox a 31-30 edge, but it was short-lived as Fajfer canned the Bears’ fourth 3-pointer of the quarter to give them a 33-31 lead with just seconds remaining. The Bears forced a steal with four seconds left, but a turnover led to a Knox 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the Brook behind 33-34 at the half.

In the first match-up with Knox the Bears trailed by just eight points at the half, but were blitzed in a 31-7 third quarter. This time proved to be different as the Bears stayed in the fight, matching Knox punch-for-punch. After Knox began the half with a layup, the Bears reeled off a 12-3 run to take their largest lead at 45-39. Layups from Scanlon and Edwards, a 3-pointer from Fajfer, and an and-1 from Scanlon brought the crowd to its feet and elicited palpable belief in the team. Knox showed their poise and experience by answering with a 7-0 stretch to retake a 46-45 lead, but an Eshirow layup and Edwards 3-pointer carried the Bears to a 50-48 lead heading into the fourth.

A Knox layup on the first possession evened the score at 50-50. Wachter’s putback plus the foul gave the Brook a 53-50 lead. Knox answered with a 3-pointer to nudge ahead, 56-55, but it proved to be their last lead of the game. A 7-0 run followed thanks to a pair of free throws from Edwards, a 3-pointer from Scanlon, and a tough, gritty rebound and layup from Eshirow. A layup and free throw brought Knox back within 59-62, and after both teams connected on a pair of free throws, the Bear advantage remained the same. Scanlon then doubled the advantage with his fourth 3-pointer of the day, despite a hand in his face, to send a charge through the Swanson faithful. Knox mustered only a free throw on their ensuing possession to pull within 62-67.

Facing pressure from Knox, the Bears called a timeout, out of which a double-teamed Sobel found a streaking Edwards for a layup with one minute left. A Knox dunk with 49 seconds left pulled the visitors within 64-69, but the Bears beat the full court press, leading to a tough, off-balance layup from Scanlon on the other end as they pushed the lead up to 71-64. Knox answered with a layup, then forced a turnover before scoring another layup with just six seconds remaining to pull within 68-71. It was the last in a line of numerous taut moments the Bears had weathered with poise, and they would not falter with the game on the line. Out of a timeout, Eshirow lobbed a half court pass to Sobel who caught it and bled away the final seconds for a thrilling win.

Scanlon led the Bears with 21 points. Edwards (17), Fajfer (10), Eshirow (10), Wachter (7), and Sobel (6) rounded out a balanced scoring attack. Sobel’s point total is a misleading metric for how impactful he was in the victory. The ball was in his hands for the majority of the time and he powered the Blue & White offense with poise under pressure and confident decision-making. On the other end he imposed his will in the form of tough rebounds and gutsy defense, despite giving up considerable size.

The efforts of Scanlon, Edwards, and Eshirow must be highlighted as well as they each turned in their finest performances as Bears. They were a combined 16-of-22 (72.7%) from the field, including 7-of-9 (77.8%) from behind the arc, but that tells only part of the story. Their toughness and confidence in key moments and clutch plays down the stretch fed the belief of their teammates and paved the way for the final result.

One of the themes that emerged over the course of the game was the Bears’ ability to weather storms. An early double-digit deficit, losing the lead at halftime with a bad turnover, Wachter fouling out with five minutes left, Knox’s surge in the final seconds–any one of those things could have shaken their footing. But their poise, confidence, and trust in each other was visible, and allowed them to pull off a huge win.

In the box score, Knox led the way in transition points (19-5), turnovers (7-20), points off turnovers (22-12), second chance points (16-13), points in the paint (36-26), offensive rebounds (18-10), assists (16-15), steals (9-3), and fouls (14-15), but the Bears’ offensive efficiency and execution made up for the shortfalls. They led the way in field goal % (54.8 to 40.6), effective field goal % (65.5 to 45.3), 3-point FG % (50.0 to 25.0), and free throw % (82.4 to 47.6).

The Bears are back in action this evening in a non-league match-up with Christian Heritage out of Trumbull, CT.


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