Mason Gross already thought he had scored the game-winning basket in overtime when the whistle from an official told him otherwise.
Gross reacted to the news by taking a breather during the ensuing timeout and coming out and doing it again.
When the senior post player scored with less a second remaining Wednesday night, a long wait for the first win of the season was over for a veteran Pittston Area boys basketball team.
The basket by Gross stood this time, with 0.9 seconds on the clock, lifting the Patriots to a 68-66 overtime victory over visiting Nanticoke.
Pittston Area had lost three games against a demanding early-season schedule, then had to wait through overtime and a timeout in the closing seconds.
Patriots coach Alan Keisinger called that timeout to try to set up a play to break the tie last of eight ties after James Emmett’s steal had prevented Nanticoke from getting off its attempt at the winning shot.
As Keisinger was getting an official’s attention, Gross broke free, sprinting the length of the floor to pull in Emmett’s pass from midcourt and quickly get off the shot that was ruled too late.
“I thought I had it,” Gross said.
He went from showing the ability to score with an impromptu move in a hectic situation to proving he could convert on a set play needed to go half-the-length of the floor in four seconds.
“There was a play at Scranton Prep where I wanted to call timeout and didn’t get it off on time,” said Keisinger, who did not waste any time doubting his decision when Emmett found Gross the first time. “I wanted the opportunity of drawing a set play.”
Gross and Michael Schwab made it look easy.
As Schwab fired his pass from midcourt, Gross took the step he needed to meet the ball high along the right side of the lane, keeping defenders behind him to secure a chance at the shot.
“We run that play in practice,” Gross said. “Coach really stresses stepping toward the ball.
“It was a great entry pass.”
From there, Gross still had his back to the basket, nearly 15 feet away with time running out. When Nanticoke took away his move toward the baseline side, Gross spun into the lane set up the 12-footer that won the game.
“We really need this one tonight,” said Keisinger, whose team had lost in overtime against West Scranton before falling to 2013 state finalist Holy Cross and Scranton Prep. “We had played fantastic. We played a great game against Scranton Prep and just came up a little short.
“We played at West Scranton, which may be the toughest gym to play in in District 2 and went from 10 down to take the game into overtime. We never gave up.”
Nanticoke made sure the first win was not easy.
The Trojans, who had beaten the Patriots at the overtime buzzer in last year’s non-league meeting, fought back after trailing, 37-27, with five minutes left in the third quarter.
Matt Winters hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 12-2 run for a 39-39 tie and finished 4-for-4 from long distance, including the shot with 24 seconds left in regulation that ultimately forced overtime.
After Tyler McGarry, who led Pittston Area with 26 points was unable to convert a 3-point shot over two defenders at the regulation buzzer, the Trojans had the Patriots in trouble for much of overtime, moving in front by four twice.
McGarry played a big role in the Patriots scoring the final six points.
“He’s been a total package player,” Keisinger said of McGarry, a junior forward who is the early team scoring leader with 16 points per game. “I’m really proud of the way he’s been playing.
“He worked really hard in the offseason.”
McGarry’s two free throws with 1:15 left cut the deficit to two.
Mike Delaney’s pressure defense then led to a McGarry steal. As McGarry was falling to the floor on his way to the basket at the other end, he managed to flip the ball back to Delaney for a layup and tie with 54 seconds left.
Nanticoke called timeout with 36 seconds left and was working toward holding for the tying shot when Emmett came up with his steal.
McGarry went 4-for-7 on 3-pointers while adding six rebounds, three assists and two steals to his 26 points. Gross stepped outside to go 3-for-5 on his 3-pointers while adding 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots. Hassan Maxwell scored all 16 of his points on eight drives to the basket from different angles and also added six steals. Delaney added five assists and four steals.
Mike Malshefski led Nanticoke with 27 points, including 15 in the first half to keep the Trojans in the game. He also grabbed 11 rebounds.