The Rome Free Academy boys basketball team captured its first outright Tri-Valley League title with a 68-65 home victory over rival Proctor High of Utica on Tuesday night.
Dante Cummings, one of nine seniors on the team, led the way for the Black Knights on Senior Night with a team-high 20 points, none coming at a more important time than the fourth quarter where he scored 12 of them.
“This is a big win, especially headed into sectionals,” Cummings said. “This is just a big win, especially after losing to Whitesboro.”
The Black Knights, who were coming off a 76-73 loss to the Warriors on Friday that snapped their school-record tying 16-game winning streak, finished the regular season 17-3 overall and went 11-1 in the league.
Rome is expected to receive a high seed in the Section III Class AA tourney when the pairings are announced today.
Midway through the second half against Proctor, the Black Knights ditched their patented full court press. “We were just giving up way too many layups,” RFA head coach Nick Medicis said. “We’re just so banged up right now, we just needed to get through the game. So we took a chance and hoped we could stop them in the half court.”
Landon Johnson scored a game-high 25 points for Proctor, 10 of the points coming in the second quarter, all from inside.
Still playing in the half-court defense, the Black Knights led 43-40 entering the fourth quarter. RFA pushed the lead to nine after Ethan Powell scored on a layup attempt to make the game 54-45. RFA’s defense held Proctor to just five points in the first four minutes of the second half. The Black Knights also got buckets from Steve Reynolds and TJ Behlin during their run in the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Proctor then started to make a comeback after Asa Beyah converted a mid-range jumper and Johnson scored the next six Proctor points to make it 59-54 with 1:35 remaining in the game. After Powell made a pair of free throws, Anthony Giglio drained a three-pointer for the Raiders with 1:02 left in the game to make it 61-57, still in favor of the Black Knights. Behlin then made a pair of free throws to give RFA a six-point lead with 54.5 seconds remaining. Proctor’s Damon Stinson answered Behlin’s free throws with a floater of his own with 33.0 to go.
On the next trip down the floor, Behlin spilt a pair of free throws to make it 64-59 with 29.4 seconds to go. Giglio, who finished with 18 points for Proctor, made another big three-pointer for the Raiders to cut the RFA lead to two with 21.1 ticks remaining, but Cummings made four free throws down the stretch to seal the game despite Beyah made a three with 6.0 seconds to go. Beyah finished with 19 points for Proctor.
“To their credit, they did a nice job of beating our zone, getting the ball to the high post and they made some jump shots from the outside,” said Medicis.
“Everytime we it felt like we were starting to pull away, they made a jump shot or they made a play. They’re a good team and this is a rivalry. You can throw out the records and all the other stuff because at the end of the game it’s going to be a close game and that’s exactly what it was.”
Proctor head coach Mark Joseph said the Raiders improved on their play from the first time the two teams met in Utica when the Black Knights came away with a 73-54 victory.
“They came to our house about a month and a half ago and they really took it to us,” Joseph said. “They blew us right out, but I think our team has come a long way since. Unfortunately, we called up a point guard from JV but he didn’t play because he was sick, so that kind of took us out of our offensive scheme, but the guys really stepped up and played well.”
Powell finished the game with 18 points for RFA, Behlin scored 12 and Gavin Mosher finished with 11 points for the Black Knights. Tristan Hunzinger, who played sparingly due to battling a knee injury, played as big of part in the win for the Black Knights as anyone else, according to Medicis.
“I thought that everyone contributed tonight and it starts with Tristan,” Medicis said. “Who wouldn’t want to run through a wall for a kid that a week ago couldn’t walk and he’s out there giving everything he’s got just to help his team for even a minute at a time.
“Every guy contributed, he continued. “Steve Reynolds made a great loose ball play at the end of a quarter to save a basket. Cam Kilpatrick, who doesn’t play a ton all year, comes in at the biggest point of the game and give us a defensive stop.
“That’s what it’s about, everybody finding their role and helping contribute to a win,” Medicis said.
RFA had nine seniors this year and they are: Powell, Kilpatrick, Hunzinger, Miguel Washington, Behlin, Mosher, Cummings, Reynolds and Istvan Persik.