WHITE PLAINS - Seconds earlier, with Stepinac locked in a one-point game, Jordan Tucker had delivered, driving baseline to score and convert on a three-point play. Tucker then found himself back at the foul line with a chance to seal a two-possession win. The Eastchester fans jeered at him from the balcony and Tucker, the area’s top junior recruit, missed both shots, giving the Eagles a fleeting chance.
Thanks to teammate Kobe Miranda, Tucker and his team didn’t face that feeling of dread for long. Miranda made a quick steal in the backcourt and the Crusaders survived, 57-54, winning in the semifinals of the Slam Dunk Tournament at the County Center Saturday night.
“I was probably a little nervous with the crowd up there, so I’m glad he got that steal,” Tucker said. “He pulled through for us.”
It was that type of finish for Stepinac (4-5), which led by 11 points midway through the fourth quarter but was forced to survive a furious Eastchester rally.
The Eagles actually had a shot to tie it, but Jack Heffernan — who scored a team-high 16 points off the bench — missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds.
It was Eastchester’s first loss, but the Eagles (8-1) showed their mettle in defeat.
“Knowing we could play with a team like Stepinac, it is only going to help us,” coach Fred DiCarlo said. “That’s why we got into the tournament.”
Player of the game: Aundre Hyatt, Stepinac. The sophomore showed his promise in his County Center debut. The 6-foot-6 swingman had 17 points and 14 rebounds and was a force on defense, producing four blocks and two steals.
Turning point: Even before his steal with 15.5 seconds left, Miranda had been a defensive force. Stepinac switched him on to Eastchester star Benny DiMirco in the second half and Miranda helped hold the senior guard to four points after he scored a game-high 11 in the first half.
Stat line: Tucker had 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, including one in the final minutes. Miranda and Mario Neri each added 10 points. ... DiMirco and Steve Galgano had 15 points apiece and DiMirco had 11 rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Quotable: “We knew they weren’t going to give up. We called a timeout up 11 with 4:01 to play and we knew we needed a couple more stops to put our foot on them,” Stepinac coach Pat Massaroni said. “They went steal, layup, steal, layup. They’re just a tough team. That’s their mentality.”