STORYBOOK ENDING: O’Day, Johnson Combine For GAR’s Winning Play In OT
WILKES-BARRE — GAR left it all on the court. Meyers did, too.
The most hyped basketball game of the Wyoming Valley Conference season lived up to and somehow exceeded all expectations Friday night, when the Wilkes-Barre Area rivals battled for one last time in the regular season.
A pair of GAR seniors connected for the game-winning play in overtime, a Jared O’Day steal and pass to Will Johnson, who laid in a contested fast-break layup in a 58-56 win.
“If I was writing a storybook, that’s probably how it would end,” said head coach Jerry Altavilla. “It might have been one of the greatest plays I’ve seen in this gym. It was unbelievable.”
The game was tied at 56 with 17.9 seconds left in overtime, at which point Meyers had possession and was inbounding the ball under its own basket.
But Meyers’ inbound pass — a looping pop fly past the top of the 3-point line — was intercepted by O’Day.
Before he even dribbled, O’Day sent a bounce pass to Johnson, who is the WVC’s leading scorer at 25.9 points per game.
“I knew he was going to make it. I knew,” O’Day said. “He’s a great finisher at the rim.”
Johnson and a Meyers defender were in a footrace to the basket.
“Honestly, I’m thinking, ‘Make the layup, make the layup, make the layup,’” Johnson recalled. “Regardless of who’s around you, who’s next to you, who’s behind you — don’t worry about them. Go up strong and make the layup. Jared made a great play on defense, he’d seen me for the fast-break layup and that’s all I was thinking. ‘Make the layup, Will. Don’t miss this.’”
Johnson won the race to the basket and went up with his left hand, dropping in what proved to be the game-winning basket with 13 seconds left.
Meyers attempted two field goals — a jumper and a tip-in — in the final 13 seconds, but the Mohawks were unsuccessful.
“Meyers played good all night,” Johnson said. “They came at us a different way; regardless of records, regardless of how the season’s going, GAR vs. Meyers is always a good game. Honestly, I have nothing left in my tank. I feel like I did everything I could. My teammates probably have nothing left; they did everything they could. Long game.”
The first four quarters were fantastic.
Never did it feel like GAR (15-7, 12-5 WVC) was a particularly big favorite over visiting Meyers (6-15, 6-10).
Meyers’ biggest lead was six points, 17-11 in the first quarter. GAR’s biggest lead was seven points, 33-26 in the second quarter.
Regulation featured four ties and eight lead changes, including GAR senior Tyler Young’s 3 from way downtown at the top of the key with 1:32 to play, putting the Grenadiers ahead 53-52.
After Curtis Smith made a free throw to add a point to the lead, Meyers’ Kendall Brewster — who led all scorers with 22 points — knocked down a jumper to tie the game at 54.
GAR made its own mistake while inbounding the ball with 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Johnson committed an over-and-back, but Meyers was stripped of the ball before it even got a shot off and the game went to overtime.
“You know what I was feeling?” Altavilla said when asked to describe his emotions heading into overtime. “I knew we were going to be here. I knew it would come down to the wire. I mean, this is Meyers vs. GAR. I didn’t really expect to blow them out and I’m sure they didn’t expect to blow us out. We knew it was going to come down to the wire.”
The teams traded points at the start of overtime with Young’s layup for GAR, followed by Blake Masker’s free throws for Meyers, before O’Day and Johnson teamed up for the game-winner.
The final buzzer set off a wide-range of emotions for O’Day and his teammates, given that it was likely the final time they’ll play each other before Wilkes-Barre Area combines the two programs with Coughlin beginning next season.
“I’m sad, upset,” O’Day said. “I’m happy that we won for our last time. I’m excited.”
A capacity crowd was on-hand from start to finish with giant cheering sections for each team.
“It means a lot to me,” Young said. “It’s the last GAR-Meyers rivalry game, so there’s never going to be another one. To come out on top, it means the world to me.”
Johnson finished with 21 points and six rebounds for GAR. O’Day made three 3s and had 11 points, while Young also had 11 points. Curon Smith scored eight points and Curtis Smith seven.
Head coach Pat Toole’s Mohawks saw Cole Walker finish with 16 points and Masker 12, as they joined Brewster in double-figures scoring.
It was GAR’s final game of the regular season, and the Grenadiers have a half-game lead on Nanticoke Area in WVC Division 2. Nanticoke Area plays at Wyoming Area tonight.
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