By Rob Potter
MONTICELLO December 14, 2007 A valiant second-half rally by the Monticello Panthers almost earned them a victory on Tuesday night.
But the visiting Washingtonville Wizards outscored the Panthers 7-0 in the final 1:27 of the fourth quarter to record a 56-49 victory in the non-league basketball game.
Down 26-13 at halftime, Monticello (1-3) used an aggressive press defense in the third quarter. The switch in defensive strategy worked, as the Panthers turned steals and Wizard turnovers into points at the other end of the floor.
Monticello outscored Washingtonville, 20-12, in the period to narrow its deficit to 38-33 entering the final frame.
The Panthers took a 47-46 lead with 2:45 remaining when Briar Patterson made a pair of free throws.
Washingtonville (3-1) tied the score at 47-47 on a free throw by Sammy Rodriguez with 2:18 left.
Just eight seconds later, the Wizards grabbed a 49-47 advantage when Mark Christian scored inside the lane.
The Panthers evened the score at 49-49 as William Watson swished a pair of free throws with 1:47 remaining on the clock.
Twenty seconds later, Christian gave the Wizards the lead for good by converting two foul shots.
In the final minute of play, Monticello turned the ball over twice and Washingtonville made 5-of-6 free throws to seal its seven-point win.
Washingtonville Coach Todd Rose said that he was very confident the Panthers would make a comeback in the second half.
“Coach [Dick] O’Neill had his team ready to play,” Rose said. “They came out in the third quarter and got a couple of 3-pointers and got right back in the game.
“I told our players to expect the unexpected here in ‘The Pit,’” Rose added, referring to the nickname given to the Monticello home court many years ago. “Monticello always has great crowd support here, which makes this a very difficult place to play for visiting teams.”
While happy with the victory, he noted there is room for improvement.
“Our goal is to play 32 minutes of good, solid basketball every game,” Rose said. “Tonight, we played about 25 minutes of good basketball.”
Leading the Wizards to the win were Jeff Cochi, who had a game-high 20 points, and Christian, who finished with 12 points.
Danny Sternkopf added nine points for Washingtonville.
Watson and Patterson paced the Monticello offense. Watson netted a team-high 15 points, while Patterson registered 10 points.
Also contributing for the Panthers were Devon Mathis (six points, four rebounds), Kyle Wigfall (five points, 10 rebounds) and Dior Jackson (four points, six assists, four steals).
“As disappointed as I was with our effort in the first half, I was as pleased with the way we played in the second half,” O’Neill said. “We had a talk a halftime to try and get the players fired up.
“This team is playing with a lot of passion,” he added. “You need to play with passion because you’re doing something you love to do.”
The veteran coach noted that the press was key to his team’s comeback.
“What the press did is allowed us to get some easy baskets,” O’Neill commented. “Our defense has been great since day one. In all four of our games this season, our defense has been very good.”