Nicholas Jones wasn’t meant to be an impact player. He was that other guy in the starting lineup, the athletic football player who could grab a few rebounds, score a couple points, the proverbial role player.
But in the Bishop Ford boys’ basketball team’s biggest game of the year, Jones had his best performance – on the basketball court anyway.
The 6-foot-3 junior forward scored 18 points, including four free throws in the final 33 seconds of the fourth quarter, to lift the Falcons to a 59-56 victory against Archbishop Stepinac in the CHSAA Class A intersectional semifinals at Holy Cross HS Tuesday night.
Bishop Ford will face Iona Prep in the Class A final Saturday afternoon at Mount St. Michael. The Gaels defeated Mount, 70-60, in the other semifinal. It is a rematch of last year’s Class A final, won by Bishop Ford.
“It’s great because it’s what you start your season off wanting to do, defending your city championship,” Bishop Ford coach John Infortunio said. “That’s really what our goal was. … I can’t ask them for any more than getting us back to the game. It’s a fantastic feeling.”
Jones went from goat to hero in 1.2 seconds. With Ford leading 57-54, Stepinac’s Maurice Daniels took a pass by the sideline at halfcourt and turned to attempt a wild, desperation heave.
But Jones, a wide receiver on the Falcons football team, was called for a foul, sending Daniels to the line with a chance to tie the game with 1.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The senior guard hit the first two and, after Infortunio called a timeout, missed the third. Kamari Murphy ripped down the rebound and gave the ball to Jones, who drained a pair of free throws with 0.1 seconds left to seal the win.
“I knew I had to make up for the stupid play that I did,” Jones said. “I couldn’t make a foul at halfcourt and not make my free throws on the other side. I had to make up for what I did.”
Jones’ performance was especially critical considering Bishop Ford’s usual scorers struggled. Matt Hall, who scored 31 points in a quarterfinal victory against Cardinal Spellman, had just two points and Murphy, a 6-foot-7 sophomore center, had just four.
Chaz Williams scored a game-high 22 points, but missed numerous layups in the paint. With Stepinac (15-11) leading 54-53, the Hofstra-bound guard dribbled the ball off his foot with 29.5 seconds left in the fourth and then put a layup attempt off the back rim with 16 seconds left following a turnover.
Although he spent much of the game visibly frustrated and talking to himself, the 5-foot-9 senior from Bushwick had tears in his eyes as he walked off the court.
“This means a lot to me,” Williams said. “People counted us out, expected Iona Prep to win it all. This is just one step to the Promised Land. Now we’re playing in the championship game and I felt it in my heart.”
While Williams struggled to finish, he did convert from the foul line. In fact, he and Jones combined to go 16-for-16 from the line.
“These guys shoot anywhere from 40-60 free throws a day in practice, fatigued and at rest,” Infortunio said. “There’s a philosophy that either you’re a good free-throw shooter or you’re not, but I don’t believe in that. I think you can mechanically make yourself a better freethrow shooter.”
Bishop Ford (21-5) scored the first eight points of the third quarter and took a 43-31 lead after back-to-back Williams layups, causing Stepinac coach Tim Philp to call a timeout. But the Falcons squandered their chance to put the game away and the Crusaders roared back, scoring the final nine points of the third quarter.
On a dunk putback by sophomore Conroy Baltimore (15 points), Stepinac took a 52-51 lead with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter. Eddie Byrne, who added 12 points, missed an open 3-pointer with 1:17 left that would have given the Crusaders a four-point lead.
With Stepinac trailing 55-54, the senior sharpshooter also put a baseline jumper off the rim. The ball bounced out of bounds and Williams followed with two more free throws with 3.4 seconds left.
After surviving a scare, Williams will now play in the Class A championship game with Iona Prep standing between him and a second title.
“I don’t want to say nothing, but we coming,” Williams said. “That’s all I’m going to say. We coming.”