BRIDGEPORT — On a night the Harding boys basketball program celebrated the past, the future gave them a reason to smile.
Marcell Robinson’s layup off a feed from fellow sophomore Josue Rivera Pacheco in the final seconds gave the Presidents a dramatic 60-59 victory over St. Joseph on Friday.
“Hats off to Harding,” St. Joseph coach Paul Dudzinski said. “It was sort of their day, their night, their party. We came here to win, it didn’t happen.”
Former Harding coach Charlie Bentley, who guided the Presidents to 651 wins and nine state championships over 34 years, was recognized before the game to celebrate the team’s final season at Harding-Miska Gymnasium. Bentley proceeded to watch most of the game from the sidelines alongside Connecticut high school basketball coaching legend, St. Joseph’s Vito Montelli.
Both coaches were treated to a game that was decided in the final seconds. There were four lead changes over the final 2:50 before Rivera Pacheco — who scored a team-high 18 points — drove through the paint and dished the ball to Robinson, who was wide open for the winning bucket.
“At first I didn’t think he was going to pass it,” Robinson said.
St. Joseph turned the ball over with 24.2 seconds left, setting the stage for Robinson’s heroics. It was Harding’s (9-8) fourth straight win and sixth in seven games.
“You’ve got to give yourself a chance,” Harding coach John Bagley said. “I think the biggest thing that we do to give ourselves a chance is on the defensive end.”
Tra’Vel Upchurch scored two of his 15 points to give Harding a late 58-57 lead. The Cadets went back up, 59-58, on a bucket by Stephen Paolini. However, the Cadets (3-15) were unable to close out what would’ve been their fourth straight victory.
“We came here to win,” Dudzinski said. “We had plenty of chances to win. They made a play, a winning play.”
Junior Brendan Kade hit five 3-pointers and led the Cadets with 17 points. Paolini and Paul Fabbri scored 13 and 11 points, respectively.
The teams were tied 34-34 at halftime. St. Joseph’s 41-36 lead early in the third quarter was the largest lead for either side in the second half.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Josue Rivera Pacheco, Harding, G: The sophomore guard scored a team-high 18 points and assisted on the winning basket in the final seconds.
Harding will be tested before the Divison-III state tournament gets underway (the Presidents, an independent, will not participate in a conference tournament). The Presidents still have games scheduled against No. 8 Danbury and city rivals Central and No. 4 Bassick.
“At the time, I wasn’t really feeling anything. I don’t really know. I just got the ball and (shot it).” — Harding guard Marcell Robinson on his game-winning layup
HARDING 60, ST. JOSEPH 59
ST. JOSEPH (3-15)
Stephen Paolini 6 1-6 13 Paul Fabbri 3 4-5 11 Brendan Kade 5 2-2 17 Gavin Greene 5 0-0 10 Brian Dineen 1 0-0 2 William Diamantis 3 0-0 6. Totals 23 7-13 59.
Keith Bush 1 0-0 2 Xavier McBride 1 0-0 2 David Council 2 0-0 5 Zamir Hairston 1 2-2 4 Tion Hampton 2 0-0 4 Tra’Vel Upchurch 7 1-2 15 John Hypolite 1 2-3 4 Josue Rivera Pacheco 7 1-1 18 Marcell Robinson 3 0-0 6. Totals 25 6-8 60.
ST. JOSEPH 22 12 11 14 — 59
HARDING 21 13 13 13 — 60
3-pointers: SJ — Kade 5, Fabbri; H — Rivera Pacheco 3, Council.