GREENCASTLE, Pa. —As ninth-seeded Northeastern celebrated its PIAA District 3-AAA boys playoff win in front of a orange-clad student section — speckled with the emerald green of a few James Buchanan fans — few noticed the Greencastle-Antrim players treading back to their locker room, downtrodden and defeated after their season slipped away.
The eighth-seeded Blue Devils had their fans on the edge of their seats like many times this season, but ultimately dropped their first-round game 54-50 to the Bobcats.
The Blue Devils (16-6) were down by seven early, then fought back to take a two-point lead midway through the second quarter. But a hungrier Bobcats squad wrestled the lead back.
“It was a game for runs and we never really had ours,” Greencastle coach Gary Martin said. “They pretty much controlled the game and the basic tempo. The team beat us.”
Northeastern held on through a wild cat-and-mouse chase to the finish. The Bobcats made only 50 percent of their free throws in the game, but Khalid Nuwandu sunk two to seal the win.
Led by an outburst from senior guards Nuwandu and Braheem Riley, the Bobcats opened the game on a 7–0 run before two minutes ticked off the clock — prompting a quick timeout from Martin.
“During the timeout I basically said that they have seven points but we should have had six,” Martin said. “Don’t let the score distract you, just keep playing.”
Daniel Stepler and Brandon Puffenbarger ignited a Greencastle run of its own, bringing the Blue Devils within one midway through the first frame.
The Bobcats opened up the lead again, but Austin Scott netted his only bucket of the game to close the gap to two heading into the second quarter.
Joel Zola entered the game and rejuvenated Greencastle. Zola and Baker paced the Blue Devils to a 22-20 lead midway through the frame.
However, the Bobcats struck back with an 8–0 run to close out the half behind four points from both Riley and Derrick Hoffman.
“(Riley) was able to get a lot of dumpoffs for layups,” Northeastern coach Jon Eyster said. “Derrick was able to score for us in the post, which was big for us.”
The Bobcats used their post play and kickout passes to start the third quarter on a 5-0 run, before the Blue Devils struck back.
The cat-and-mouse game resumed as Puffenbarger and Stepler once again led the charge, culminating with a three-point play by senior Zach Faulkner that knotted the game at 38.
Both teams struck for big buckets as the lead swapped hands in the fourth quarter. Hoffman and Nuwandu drove the lead to six with two minutes to play for Northeastern, but once again, Puffenbarger and Stepler swung the momentum in Greencastle’s favor. The two hit consecutive shots to bring the Blue Devils within two, but that was the closest they came.
Up by two with 18 seconds left, Nuwandu drilled the two decisive free throws.
Puffenbarger finished the game with 13 points for the Blue Devils.
Stepler and Holden Baker each finished the game with nine points. Zola and Faulkner each added seven points in the loss.
Nuwandu had 17 points and Riley finished with 16 points for Northeastern.
Northeastern 54, Greencastle-Antrim 50
Kh. Nuwandu 17, Riley 16, Hoffman 11, Ko. Nuwandu 7, Marshall 3. Totals 19 13-26 54.
Puffenbarger 13, Stepler 9, Baker 9, Faulkner 7, Zola 7, Englehart 3, Scott 2. Totals 20 8-11 50.
Northeastern 13 15 12 14 — 54
Greencastle 11 11 16 12 — 50
3-point goals — Northeastern 2 (Kh. Nuwandu 2), Greencastle-Antrim 2 (Baker, Englehart).