Goshen shocks Monticello with first-ever win at ‘The Pit’ in O’Neill era

Panthers’ late surge is too little in home opener comeback bid

By RICHARD A. ROSS

MONTICELLO, NY - Sleepless nights are all Goshen coach Joe Guanieri has ever known following games at Monticello over the past four or five years.

Consigned to tossing and turning over a relentless string of defeats to coach Dick O’Neill’s Monticello Panthers, Guanieri’s goal coming in on December 20 for the league opener against Monticello was to be able to get to get a good night’s sleep for once.

As for the game itself, having never beaten Monticello in its home gym, known as “The Pit,” Guanieri hoped for the best from his quick, but small, team. By night’s end, he got more than he ever imagined. Forget the sleep. He got that long-awaited win.

After a first half dominated by Goshen’s assertiveness, great ball rotation and the hot shooting of Nick Skelly, A.J. Zecchini and Ed Robinson, Goshen held a 31-19 lead at the half, a fact that only partially dampened the enthusiasm of Monticello’s home crowd that was stoked to see its team play its first home game in the post-Brad-Cooper era. But despite the disappointing first-half result, the Panther crowd, amped by its awesome cheerleaders and marauding Panther mascot, was fueling its team with spirit right down to the last thrilling seconds.

In the game’s waning minutes, Monticello stormed back from a 16-point mid-third quarter deficit to cut the lead to two with 27 seconds remaining. Abetted by Goshen’s abysmal two-for-seven, fourth-quarter free throw shooting, Monticello was poised to do what it has always done, find a way to beat Goshen.

The drama began to reach its climax after Monticello’s big man Mike Norman missed his second of two free throws, but slammed his own rebound home to bring the Panthers to within two. The late run was sparked by the fine late defensive play of Wayne Fletcher and Shane Jones. The latter scored all of his four points in the final frame. His late contribution, coupled with the timely shooting of an Omar Diaz three and great play by Justino Paredes, had the Panthers looking like they might have the last word.

But as basketball fans know, a game’s final seconds can become an eternity in which a team’s fate can be decided by the oddest of occurrences. This finale lived up to that hype.

A Monticello time-out after Norman’s shot had both coaches furiously scribbling on their game boards as their players hung on their every word.

Goshen’s John Xanthis inbounded the ball to make the full-length trip to the other end, but was promptly fouled by Omar Diaz, according to plan. Xanthis missed the front end of a one-and-one as both teams were in the bonus by this point. Fletcher got the rebound and with 12 seconds remaining, Goshen’s Robinson unintentionally fouled Tyrone White, who then missed his free throw.

The Panthers spent their last time out and O’Neill schemed up the final play. Fletcher promptly fouled Zecchini, who missed his shot and the Panthers got the rebound and had 10 seconds to get the game-tying or game-winning shot. They didn’t get just one shot off, they got off three, but unthinkably none fell through the cylinder and Goshen didn’t foul. As the buzzer sounded, Goshen (2-2 1-0 OCIAA) had pulled off the improbable win over Monticello (3-3 0-1 OCIAA).

Game rewind

The Gladiators lost the opening tip to Monticello and surrendered a quick two points to Norman. But a three by Nick Skelly coming back the other way, was an ominous sign for the Panthers and O’Neill knew it. He quickly called a time out with the game not even a minute old. Despite his savvy advice, his team allowed Goshen perimeter shooters to get open looks and slash pathways to the rim for easy baskets early on.

At the opposite end of the floor, Goshen created problems for the Panthers with their flat three-two zone and a quasi box and one on Norman that had the big fella surrounded and denied him the touches he needed.

Monticello’s jump shots were fired up with too much hesitancy and Goshen came away with far too many rebounds. The result: a 17-9 first-quarter margin for Guanieri’s crew and an uphill battle for the Panthers, who just couldn’t get the stops they needed to slow down Goshen’s attack.

The same scenario dominated the second quarter, as the Gladiators outscored Monticello 14-10 to take their 31-19 lead into the half.

In the second half, O’Neill made a good adjustment by having his players attack the gaps in the zone and keep Norman down low. “I told Mike, get every rebound you can,” said the New York State High School Hall of Fame coach. The results paid off as Monticello outscored Goshen 16-10 in the third quarter, although Skelly and Xanthis got quick slashes to the rim to start the third quarter. The Panthers cut the lead to six at the end of the third quarter, helped immeasurably by Paredes’ 10-point scoring flurry.

But it was Skelly who scored eight of Goshen’s 12 fourth-quarter points, who sparked the win. His two free throws were the only ones the Gladiators got from the stripe, and his shooting dampened Monticello’s comeback.

Though the Panthers would outscore Goshen 16-12 in the final quarter, as O’Neill noted, it’s like the old song, “Too Little, Too Late.” The coach said that the problem of not playing two halves of consistent basketball is not a new one. “We gave up 38 points in the first half against John Jay and then held them to 12 in the second half before surrendering 14 in overtime,” O’Neill lamented.

“Tonight Goshen was taking everything away from Mike and when we didn’t hit jump shots early on, everybody was watching. We did a much better job in the second half, attacking the gaps and going to the hole and we got offensive rebounds,” O’Neill added.

“We had our opportunities to win this one and I told my team about the historical fact that they just don’t beat us here. We’ll do something to win.”

As it turned out, the team’s early tentativeness, coupled with lost opportunities down the stretch, weren’t quite enough. “Tentative shooting, tentative defense… we just didn’t play with enough aggression,” concluded the coach. O’Neill hoped that his team would put it together in a crucial home game against Cornwall on December 22.

Guanieri was delighted to get the “W,” but pointed out that his team looked like they wanted to just get out of the gym with the win a bit too early. “You’ve got to continue to play basketball right to the end. We have to make free throws down the stretch if we want to be a good team. We moved the ball well and the kids made their shots. I thought we did a good job on Norman but he gets to the basket anyway,” Guanieri concluded.

Norman had 11 points for the Panthers, down from his usual production. Paredes led Monticello with 17. Skelly led Goshen with 17, but the Glads got balanced scoring with 12 from Robinson and six each from Xanthis, Zecchini, Mike DeMateo and Chris Aglialoro.

TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Monticello’s Mike Norman goes up strong for two in the second half. Norman was stymied early on as Goshen defenders swarmed around him. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Goshen’s Nick Skelly cans a shot by shooting over Norman. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Monticello’s Wayne Fletcher is surrounded by a sea of Goshen defenders as he tries to pass the ball to a teammate. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Monticello point guard Justino Paredes brings the ball up the floor. (Click for larger version)