By BRIAN CUNNIFF
ERMA – A big shot by Justin Harper saved the Wildwood Catholic Academy boys basketball team from what would have been a heartbreaking defeat.
Harper’s three-pointer with 31 seconds to play gave the Crusaders a 49-48 victory over rival Lower Cape May after the Tigers had rallied from a 10-point deficit to start the fourth quarter to take a two-point lead, their only advantage of the second half.
Harper made the winning basket from the right wing after being freed for the shot by a screen from teammate Rashee Bell.
“We called timeout to try to get everything under control. We’ve been in that situation two or three times in close games down the stretch already this year and we needed to stay in the moment,” Wildwood Catholic coach Anthony Raffa said. “We drew up a play and I told Justin that if he was open he had to shoot it. He got that screen from Rashee, he got open and he knocked it down.”
Lower Cape May, which had trailed by as many as 11 points in the second half, rallied to take the lead behind a 16-4 fourth-quarter run. Archie Lawler’s basket and free throw with 1:29 remaining tied the game at 46-46 before Jacob Bey’s two free throws gave Lower its first lead since the first quarter at 48-46.
That set the stage for Harper’s massive game-winning shot on Wildwood Catholic’s next possession.
It was no surprise that Harper made the basket considering how well he shot the ball over the course of the game. He made 8 of his 12 shots from the floor, including 3 of 4 from three-point range, and finished with a game-high 23 points.
Bell added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Crusaders (5-4), who’ve now won two straight after a 50-point loss to Camden Catholic last weekend.
“We’re working and we’re getting better,” Raffa said. “We’re playing with more energy and we’re starting to understand what it takes to win.”
Lawler led Lower Cape May (3-7) with 18 points, scoring seven in the fourth quarter. Macky Bonner scored 16 points and Mike Cronin chipped in 11.