MANHEIM – Finding the 3-point line was irrelevant.
Locating an open spot on the floor, however, meant everything.
As his JB Hoops Reagan teammates raced the ball up the floor in the final seconds Friday night, Greg Eck slipped to the right corner by himself.
From there, Eck was wide open to release the game-winning, 3-pointer just before the final buzzer, lifting JB Hoops to a 71-68 victory over Maryland’s Finest.
The win was the first of two for JB Hoops Reagan in the 17U division when action began Friday night in the Hoop Group Spring Jam at Spooky Nook Sports.
Darren Lucas-White’s drive with 7.3 seconds left had produced the tying basket and a free throw with a chance to regain the lead for Maryland’s Finest.
The shot was off the mark and Joe Grula controlled the rebound.
After waiting for pressure to clear, Grula advanced the ball to Jay Bittner.
Bittner dribbled quickly up court, pushing the ball toward the foul line. From there, he drew the attention of the defense, helping leave Eck wide open.
“I saw Joey get a rebound,” said Eck, an East Stroudsburg South junior. “He passed it up to Jay when there were about four seconds left on the clock.
“My defender went to pick up on Jay, he passed me the ball and I shot it.”
Eck’s shot made sure Josh Samec’s efforts in rallying JB Hoops were not wasted.
Samec, a 6-foot-8 Hazleton Area junior who played all over the floor, finished with 22 points. He hit a 3-pointer for the team’s first points of the second half after Maryland’s Finest built a 43-33 lead; he scored five straight points, then blocked a shot in transition after the deficit went back to 53-44 with 8:40 left; and his 3-pointer from the right corner after a rebound started the rally from a 58-49 deficit in the final 5:25.
“Not everybody played as well as we’d like to, myself included, but it ended up working out well,” Samec said.
Grula, Samec’s Hazleton Area teammate, joined him in the comeback.
Samec’s two free throws made it 59-54.
Grula hit a 3-pointer and scored again when Samec tipped a rebound to him, reducing the deficit to 61-59 with 3:25 left.
Samec got the ball to Grula for another easy basket off a pass in the lane, then partially blocked a shot at the other end. From there, Samec went spinning through the lane to score on a left-hander off the glass, forcing a 63-63 tie with 2:15 to go.
Jackson Danzig’s drive gave JB Hoops its first lead of the half at 65-64.
A Grula steal led to Danzig setting up another Samec basket for a three-point advantage.
JB Hoops went 1-for-6 from the line down the stretch, with Danzig providing the only make. That opened the door for Maryland’s Finest to force the tie.
Eck’s shot ended the prospects of overtime.
“We were down a bunch, but ended up coming back,” Samec said. “It was a good team win.”
Samec and Eck agreed on how the game turned.
“We picked up our defensive energy,” Eck said. “We stopped the ball from getting in the paint; we boxed out; and, we got more rebounds.”
Grula finished with 14 points, Eck 11 and Danzig 8.
JB Hoops Reagan followed up that victory with a 69-53 victory over the New York Gauchos as part of a 4-1 opening night for the JB Hoops program.
JB Hoops Reagan continues its championship pursuit Saturday at 3:30 against Metro Boston HGSL.
Samec had 23 points in the second win. Danzig, who hit three 3-pointers, and Eck added 10 points each.
Danzig and Jawane Buckner each had two of the team’s five 3-pointers in the first half against New York Gauchos.