MIDDLETOWN >> Xavier escaped.
“This was kind of a trap games,” said Xavier coach Mike Kohs after his team came from behind in the final 65 seconds to beat West Haven 53-52 in a Southern Connecticut Conference Quinnipiac Division game at the Art Kohs Gym at Xavier High Sunday afternoon.
“We played great Friday against Notre Dame and we have Fairfield Prep coming in Tuesday. It was not one of our better games, but we got the win.”
Xavier trailed 50-47 with 1:05 to play when the Falcons’ Brandon MacPherson was fouled. Some 40 seconds earlier, MacPherson missed a 1-and-1, but this time he made both to cut the lead to one.
On the ensuing possession, Thomas Jackson stole the ball and MacPherson scored to give the Falcons a 51-50 lead with 50 seconds showing. Xavier then stole the ball again, Elijah Pemberton was fouled and he made two to give Xavier a 53-50 lead with 32 seconds to play.
West Haven coach Harry Bosley took his last time out — he took three in the first half, including one with 3 seconds to play in the first quarter — to set up a play. The Blue Devils looked for a three, didn’t get a look, and settled for two from Kenneth Graham with five seconds showing on the clock.
But with West Haven unable to stop the clock, Xavier just let it run out and exhaled.
“We needed a three,” said Bosley. “But we couldn’t get a look, and they gave us a two. That’s our inexperience at the end of a game. My guards, especially, have never been in this kind of situation.
“We missed a free throw [Aaron Spann missed a 1-and-1 with 1:41 to go] and we turned it over at the end. It’s been like that all season. We’re hoping we can get one of those back before tournament time.”
The game was close throughout. West Haven (8-8) led 13-9 at the end of one and Xavier moved ahead, 25-22 at the half. Kahlib Downing, Kaleb Lutton and MacPherson all had six points in the first half for the Falcons. But star Elijah Pemberton had a half to forget with just two points. But that was about to change.
The teams were tied 36-36 after three, setting up the dramatic finish.
Part of that finish was the second half turned in by Pemberton. He ended up with 14 points, including an 8-for-10 from the free throw line — all of which came in the second half.
“This was not one of Elijah’s best games,” said Kohs. “But when he had to be good, he was. He took over in the last three or four minutes. He scored when it counted. But having said that, MacPherson had a great game.
“He’s been playing very well for a while.”
MacPherson led Xavier with 18 points and he kept the Falcons in the game. Without MacPherson’s performance, Pemberton’s second half would have been a footnote.
“Give West Haven credit,” said Kohs. “They played us very tough both times. We won down there with a Pemberton basket at the end of the game and today was the same kind of game. Their kids play very hard and they give everybody a hard time.”
Xavier (12-4) outrebounded West Haven 31-22 and was 19-for-41 from the floor for 46 percent.
West Haven, which was 22-for-53 from the floor for 42 percent, was led by Aaron Spann with 16. Gary Dudley and Graham each had 11 points.
“They played very good defense,” said Kohs. “They play a tough 1-3-1 and forced a lot of turnovers, which is something we don’t usually do. But I will say that our defense on their last possession was outstanding. They never got a good look for a three and we made them eat up a lot of time.”
Xavier plays undefeated and No. 1 ranked Fairfield Prep Tuesday at home.