Toni Maric may have been in a fourth-quarter pickle, but on Tuesday, it just seemed to be a case of more pressure the better for Vancouver College’s senior big man.
Despite starting the fourth quarter with four fouls, the 6-foot-8 senior did what he does best, and against the Saints, it was a steady diet of strong takes to the basket followed by soft-handed finishes at the rim.
Maric’s 12 fourth-quarter points, all in the paint, where just what the doctor ordered as the host and No. 4-ranked Fighting Irish rallied from a five-point deficit with 4:20 remaining to beat their rivals, the No. 3-ranked St. George’s Saints 90-89 in the first of their annual home-and-home Quad-A Independent League series.
The return engagement is set for Feb. 6 at Saints.
Vancouver College took a 68-66 lead into the fourth quarter on Tuesday, and before the final frame was just over a minute old, the Irish had threatened to run away with things.
Hunter Cruz-Dumont’s steal and 80-foot drive for a lay-in, followed by a Maric lay-up made it 72-66 for the home team.
St. George’s, however, gathered themselves and over a span of just 1:38 strung together an 8-0 run for a 74-72 lead with 6:02 remaining.
Ao Ma took a dish from point guard Jerric Palma, and his spinning lay-in through contact allowed him to complete an and-one play from the stripe.
Ma then took a dish on the baseline from Jaxon Cohee for another lay-in, pulling his team to within 72-71.
A defensive stop and some nice ball movement at the other end of the court teed up a three-point opportunity for guard Darian Lenett, and he knocked down the long-distance shot for a 74-72 advantage. It was Saints first lead of the entire game.
The final half of the final quarter, however, was even more tense the first.
Maric, who had sat a short spell, returned, and his lay-in with 5:48 left tied the game at 74.
Cohee scored through contact for St. George’s but missed his and-one opportunity as Saints re-took the lead at 76-74. Palma followed with a three for a 79-74 lead with 4:52 left.
The Irish rallied back from five points down on two lay-ins and a pair of free throws by Maric, as well as a bucket off an offensive rebound by fellow forward Luc Therrien. That surge was offset by a bucket from St. George’s Will Lin, but Vancouver College had re-gained the lead, this time 82-81 with 3:07 left.
A baseline bucket off the window by Palma with 2:41 left restored the Saints lead at 83-82 but it would be their final lead of the game.
That said, the tight nature of the game saw St. George’s knot the score three more times down the stretch: At 85-85 on a Palma jumper, 87-87 off a Ma lay-in, and finally 89-89 when Palma cooly hit a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left.
Vancouver College’s Callum Chow-White, however, was fouled in the dying seconds, hitting one of two from the free throw line to win the game as jubilant Irish fans flooded the court.
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