Everything inside Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy’s bandbox gym had you convinced a Tigers’ victory was only seconds away.
Kai Parris, the Tigers’ stellar senior scoring machine, had just completed a three-point play with 7.7 seconds remaining in the game. The scoreboard read 56-55 in favor of RKA over IN-Tech Academy. And the decibel level inside the gym was hitting jet engine levels.
RKA had just completed a rally from seven points down with just 1:55 to play, and now just those 7.7 remaining seconds were all that stood in the way of the Tigers posting their sixth win of the season.
But then the unthinkable happened for RKA. IN-Tech sophomore guard Luis Sepulveda broke free with the ball and raced down court, looking to not only beat Tigers defenders to the basket, but the ticking game clock as well. Sepulveda tossed up a layup attempt just as he was fouled, and as he crashed to the floor, his shot dropped through the net with 1.9 seconds to play.
Sepulveda missed his free throw attempt, giving RKA one last chance to pull out the win down by one. But Parris’ half-court heave missed the mark at the buzzer, and IN-Tech was left standing with a 57-56 victory over its neighborhood rivals.
“It wasn’t the play we designed, but it happened,” Sepulveda said. “I beat my man down the court, I went up with the shot, concentrated, and I got hit. I didn’t even see the ball go in the basket, so when I got up off the floor I asked my teammates if I made it. That’s when I found out. It was crazy.”
The game-winning bucket represented Sepulveda’s only points of the game.
“My job on the court is not really scoring, it’s running the offense,” Sepulveda said. “I don’t really care if I don’t score any points. But none of us panicked when we were down near the end. We stayed focused and composed, and we came out with the win. That was literally the biggest shot of my small basketball career.”
IN-Tech was holding a 55-48 lead with 1:55 to play after a jumper by Jordan Montesino. It was the largest lead of the game for the Panthers, who began the fourth quarter down 43-35 after a three-point play by RKA’s Jacques Zoumanigui. But 13 straight points by the Panthers — a spurt capped by another bucket by Montesino — gave IN-Tech a 48-43 lead, and the look of a team ready to put the game away.
But later in the quarter, when RKA found itself down 55-48, the Tigers scored eight straight points with the final three coming on Parris’ key three-point play giving RKA its last lead and setting up Sepulveda’s dramatic game-winning basket.
“We just call Luis ’point guard’ because that’s who he is,” IN-Tech head coach Nicole Price said. “He’s our strategy guy. We want our point guards to be more critical thinkers than anything. But he saw the play (unfold), and he knew what he had to do.”
Donovan Diaz, who led IN-Tech with 19 points, said he wasn’t shocked it was Sepulveda who bagged the game-winner.
“We trust everybody, so for him to get the basket was great for him and great for us,” Diaz said.
Sepulveda’s late-game heroics left Parris stunned after he thought he had delivered a win for the Tigers.
“I thought that was it right there,” Parris said. “He wasn’t supposed to score. Honestly that wasn’t supposed to happen. I don’t know what happened, but that wasn’t supposed to happen.”
The victory left the Panthers with a 9-2 record in the Bronx B-1 Division, and with a sky-high level of confidence entering the final four games of the regular season.
“We came into the season knowing we had an amazing team,” Sepulveda said. “A team that could make things happen, and that’s what we’re doing, we’re making things happen. We’re just taking everything game-by-game, but our confidence level is crazy. We wouldn’t have been able to do what we did today if our confidence wasn’t high.”
As for RKA, the Tigers stand at 5-6 after the loss and need to get back on track if they hope to reach the postseason. That road doesn’t get any easier, however, as the Tigers will host first-place Tuitt in their next game Jan. 15 before visiting the Academy for Language & Technology on Jan. 17.
“We know what we need to do,” said Parris, who finished with 31 points. “We need to cut down on our turnovers, play better defense, and just play our game.
“We just need to get back to work.”