Just days after the tragic loss of teammate Lenny Pierre, John Bowne's boys basketball team courageously took the court in the finale of the annual Queens Jam Christmas Classic in Flushing on Saturday, hosting PSAL Bronx AA contender James Monroe. The team honored Pierre, who passed away on Wednesday after collapsing during practice, donning pre-game shirts bearing his name, number and the hashtag #Play4Lenny.
Bowne had two valiant comebacks thwarted when Ismar Martinez drained a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer, giving James Monroe a well-earned 63-61 road win. The Wildcats overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to take the lead in the third quarter and then, after falling behind 55-50 midway through the fourth, pulled ahead 61-57 before Monroe scored six points in the final 18.5 seconds to win it.
The Wildcats energized the crowd early, taking a 13-12 lead at the end of the first quarter, with Tyshawn Trail as the catalyst on offense.
Monroe put up 24 points in the second frame, getting a brilliant offensive performance from point guard Sage Borbon, who connected on a 3-pointer from NBA range and converted several mid-range runners. Bowne called for time after falling behind 31-23, but the Eagles stretched the lead to double digits at the break, taking a 36-26 lead into the half.
The Wildcats opened the second half on a 6-0 run, with Aguibou Balde bringing Bowne within four at 36-32, prompting a Monroe timeout with 6:28 in the third quarter. Bowne tied the game at 38 on Cherif Diarra's follow-up, and the Wildcats pulled ahead 40-38 on Amadou Diallo's fast-break layup. The pace of the game accelerated midway through the third quarter, with several lead changes before Monroe took a slim 47-46 lead into the fourth.
After Bowne took the lead back at 48-47, Monroe tallied six straight behind Alberto Paulino, whose free throw gave the Eagles a 53-48 lead with 4:24 to play. Trailing 55-50, Bowne countered with five straight to tie the score at 50 on a layup by Diallo. Monroe took the lead back at 57-55 on a jumper by Paulino in the lane, but Trail connected on a corner 3-ball coming off a baseline screen, giving Bowne the lead back at 58-57 and bringing the crowd to their feet. Another 3-pointer by Trail, this one from 25 feet, drew more cheers, and Bowne had themselves a 61-57 lead with less than a minute to play.
A Borbon free throw made it a one possession game at 61-58 with 18.5 seconds left, but it looked like Bowne would ice the game when Diallo hit Trail with a perfect runout touchdown pass from the endline. Daniel Compres came up with the defensive play of the game for Monroe, chasing Trail down and blocking the shot. Borbon scooped up the loose ball, dribbled the length of the court, and fed Paulino for a layup to bring the Eagles within a point at 61-60 with 8.5 ticks left.
Monroe put Diallo on the line with just 4.3 seconds left, and the Eagles regained possession with a chance to win it when Victor Nieves chased down the missed front-end and handed it to Borbon. The lefty point guard dribbled up the right sideline and found Martinez, who launched a quick release that found the bottom of the net as time expired. The proximity of the release to the buzzer was as close as could be, difficult to decipher with the naked eye.
Borbon led Monroe with 18 points, while Trail had a game-high 20 for Bowne.
Both teams will resume PSAL league play on Thursday, when Monroe will host Wings Academy and Bowne will visit Springfield Gardens.
Wings was ranked 15th in New York State and ranked 8th in New York City by the New York State Sportswriters on December 24th. Springfield Gardens fell to Holy Trinity (LI) 81-63 in one of the undercard games at Bowne on Saturday.