The final seconds of the game were slipping away with Cardinal Gibbons locked in a 61-61 tie at East Chapel Hill. The Crusaders’ Mike Brannan had the ball, and he was staring down Jonathan Runyambo, like a bull deciding on when to charge the matador.
As the clock ticked down … 8, 7, 6 … Brannan made his move, slipping past the matador and, bull-like, crashing through the middle where no lane existed. He picked up a foul with 4 seconds remaining.
Then he converted one of two free throws, pushing Cardinal Gibbons to a 62-61 lead and a ticket to the third round of the 4A state playoffs.
It was sweet revenge for Cardinal Gibbons, which dropped a pair of regular season PAC-6 Conference games to the Wildcats.
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“They’re a No. 1 seed, so we knew we were going to have to play our tails off,” said Cardinal Gibbons coach Jim Ryan.
Still running on adrenaline in his post-game interview, Ryan agreed the dramatic finish was nerve-jangling.
“I was just trying to survive to be honest with you,” he said. “We purposely save our timeouts so we could use them down the stretch.”
The Crusaders seemed to control the boards, and have fewer turnovers. Their passing game was crisp, and at times phenomenal, while East Chapel Hill had several miscues, errant passes, and even balls bouncing off of players who were not anticipating a throw.
Ryan said it was just one of those nights where all parts of the pregame strategy fell into place.
“I thought we executed our game plan as well as we could,” he said.
Cardinal Gibbons outshot East Chapel Hill 9-3 on 3-pointers, which was a decisive factor in the win.
“We’re not normally a great 3-point shooting team, but they gave us those,” Ryan said. “We got the ball inside early, and that made them sag in, and it opened up our threes.”
Ryan also was pleased with the inbounds.
“We go over, and over, and over it,” he said. “I thought we got the ball into the guys we wanted.”
The Wildcats' Carter Collins led all scorers with 24 points. Mike Walsh led Cardinal Gibbons with 21.
It didn’t start out well for the road travelers. They quickly fell behind East Chapel Hill 15-7 after the first period.
But they drained four of their 3-pointers in the second period including a buzzer beater by Jake Reid to take a 29-28 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Runyambo banged a double-handed power dunk at 7:18 of the third period and the Wildcats recaptured a 30-29 lead. Throughout the rest of the period the game was tied three times, and the teams swapped the lead twice each with the Wildcats clinging to a narrow 45-44 lead heading to the last period.