After tying a school record by winning 16 games in a row, the Rome Free Academy boys basketball team couldn’t push it to 17.
The Black Knights couldn’t make a 20-point lead hold up on Friday night as they went down to a 76-73 home loss to Tri-Valley League foe Whitesboro.
“I think we started out really well,” RFA head coach Nick Medicis said. “We shot the ball extremely well in the first quarter and got ourselves a comfortable lead. Then we fell victim to a pace game.”
Rome, 16-3 overall and 10-1 in the league, wraps up the regular season on Tuesday night when the Black Knights host TVL rival Proctor High of Utica at 7.
Whitesboro improved to 12-6 overall and 6-5 in the TVL.
The Black Knights jumped out to a 31-11 lead at the end of the first quarter after Whitesboro scored the first four points of the game. RFA received an early gift from Whitesboro after one of its players tried to save a loose ball going out of bounds and flipped it behind his back, and the ball sailed into the basket. Damien Call was credited with the basket for Rome on the play.
Over the course of the next three quarters, the Warriors chipped away at RFA’s lead.
Midway through the second quarter, RFA extended its lead to 37-17 after Dante Cummings hit a three-pointer with 4:50 remaining in the first half. Whitesboro went on an 13-0 run to close out the first half trailing 37-30.
Midway through the third quarter, RFA held a 10-point lead at 44-34 after Ethan Powell had his layup fall through the bottom of the net. The Warriors kept chipping away and pulled the game to four with the score at 49-45 with just over two minutes to go in the third.
“Early on, we were able to get points off of our press,” Medicis said. “When we weren’t scoring, we couldn’t put our press on and shots that were going in, weren’t going in. To their credit, they kept fighting and made some nice adjustments against our press.”
RFA was able to extend its lead back up to nine points after TJ Behlin made a pair of free throws and Call went coast-to-coast and was able to draw the foul. After making both the layup and free throw, RFA led 54-45 with 1:56 remaining in the third quarter. After Call’s three-point play, Whitesboro scored six points to end the quarter down 58-51.
In the fourth, the two squads traded buckets early on, but with 4:41 remaining in the game, Whitesboro’s Collin McAndrew buried a three-pointer that brought the score to 61-60, still in favor of the hosts. After a brief scoring drought, Call was able to knock down the front end of a 1-and-1 to make it 62-60, and Whitesboro’s Avery Cook tied the game after he hit a layup with 3:37 remaining.
Whitesboro took the lead for good on their next possession after Lucas Pasquarelli knocked down a three to make the game 65-62 with 3:01 to go. The Warriors extended their lead to 70-62, completing a 17-1 run.
In the closing seconds, with Whitesboro winning, 72-65 after Tommy Morreale hit two free throws for his game-high 29 points, Behlin had an old-fashioned three-point play go his way for the Black Knights after hitting a layup and the free throw, to bring the game to 72-68 with 42.9 seconds remaining. Call also added a three-point play for RFA with 19.4 seconds to go to make the game 73-71, but when the Warriors needed free throws, they got them. Cook made one free throw and Morreale hit a pair to close out the scoring. Behlin hit a late layup with 11.7 seconds left and Call’s potential game-tying three at the buzzer fell short.
Behlin scored a team-high 22 points for RFA, both Powell and Cummings finished with 16 points and Call added 12. Cook finished with 12 points for Whitesboro.
“Hats off to Whitesboro,” Medicis said. “It’s a rivalry game so records go out the window, but I’m proud of my team. We kept fighting and we made it a one-point game with 15 seconds to go and we gave ourselves a chance to win. We’ve been short-handed all year it seems like with injuries and anything else that can happen. But we’ve put ourselves in positions to win games, but tonight, the shots didn’t fall.”
RFA played Friday night’s game without senior captain Tristan Hunzinger, who sat out due to an injury sustained in the Black Knights’ previous game at New Hartford.
“In the first quarter, I didn’t think anything was going to go right for us,” Whitesboro head coach Garrett Herthum said. “I wasn’t questioning our effort. We were just turning the ball over and they were catching it in rhythm and getting the shots that they wanted. Credit them, they were hitting some deep threes. That’s what they do and we’ll live with it, but we buckled down the next three quarters and played good defense.”
Herthum said the Black Knights will be a force in the upcoming Section III playoffs.
“They’re a good team,” he said. “They’re going to make a run in sectionals. We’re just trying to get better each game, no matter who the opponent is.”
The sectional boys and girls basketball seeding meetings are set for Wednesday morning.