The JEC Thunder and MTA Lions were tied for the fifth and sixth (and final) playoff spots in the tightest and hottest fight for playoff eligibility in years, when JEC traveled to Washington Heights to meet the Lions on Wednesday, January 3, in a game with everything on the line.
On Saturday night, JEC beat Kushner 59-45, to move a half game ahead of the Lions, and to even JEC’s yeshiva league record at 5-5. That climb was quite an accomplishment after an 0-5 season start. MTA was in a parallel position, and the very next day, on December 30, the Lions beat Hillel 56-41, to also even the season at 5-5 in YL play.
At the start, the Lions took a 9-0 lead on the strength of three treys. JEC finally managed a foul shot at the 4:04 point by star point guard Moshe Heller, to creep into the scoring at 9-1 MTA, but the Lions bombed yet another 3 pointer to take a 12-1 lead, at the 3:53 point.
The Thunder, never lost their composure, and with 3:06 left in the first period, SF Yair Kimmel lofted a three for JEC, and finally the Thunder had a field goal and got on the board. By the time the first period ended, MTA drained yet another three (the Lions netted 11 threes in the game), and at the end of the first period, MTA had a 17-7 lead.
Entering the second period, Hillel Glick tallied a trey for JEC at the 7:16 mark, to close the gap a bit, only to have the Lions extend the lead again to 23-10, on the strength of more bombs from Amsterdam Avenue.
JEC changed its defense to throw more and diverse traps at the Lions. Moshe Heller combined with SG Aharon Heller to eat away at the Lion’s lead, netting eight points and five points, respectively— combined with Glick’s three, and two each from Kimmel and Jacob Winters—but MTA clung to a 31-27 lead at the half.
JEC came out of its den in the third period with PF Jake Goldberg draining a long 3 pointer and narrow the MTA lead. From there, the Lions and the Thunder both roared back and forth, but finally, with 3:57 left in the third period, and down 41-39 MTA, Moshe Heller fed Goldberg in the left corner who nailed the three to give JEC its first lead.
Immediately, Aharon Heller stole the ball and fed Moshe Heller, who scored on a layup, and JEC extended its lead to 44-41. The Lions answered, but Glick had found the bottom of the net with a t3, and JEC went into the fourth leading 47-43.
Now, the nail-biter got interesting. JEC went cold and MTA tied the game at and then extended the lead to 51-47 with 5:09 to play.
Kimmel had another clutch three in him, narrowing the lead to within one, and scored on another Aharon Heller steal/Moshe Heller score combo to once again take the lead by one.
But again, MTA buried its 11th three of the game and regained the advantage, following up with two foul shots, taking control of the game.
Kimmel still was not done. Yet another three from the sharpshooter, and now the lead was 56-55, MTA with 2:08 left in the game. Aharon Heller had yet another steal in his repertoire, and Moshe Heller had another break down the court, finishing with an acrobatic layup, and a hard foul from an MTA player. Moshe was injured, and out for the rest of the game.
JEC sent Winters to the foul line to shoot the two technical fouls, and he buried both, to give JEC a 59-56 lead now with 1:58 left in the game.
MTA pounded JEC, and fouled the Thunder players when JEC got the ball back. Winters went to the charity stripe four times in the remaining seconds and nailed all four of his shots. MTA was able to down yet another 3 pointer, its 12th of the night to narrow the Thunder lead to a scant 64-62 with 1:06 left in the fourth period.
Winters found himself at the line again and nailed both shots giving the Thunder a thrilling 66-62 win, and sole possession of fifth place, going into the finals and yeshiva week break.
For JEC, Moshe Heller tallied 18 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Aharon Heller had 10 points to go with four steals. Kimmel netted 12 points, while Goldberg had nine points. Glick and six picks and eight points. Winters also finished with eight points and was 6-6 from the foul line in the fourth period. JEC shot 17-25 from the foul line and had 18 team steals and deflections. MTA had the 12 threes, but JEC had seven clutch treys of its own, just when it needed them most.