By Tom Robinson, NEPABasketball.com
WILKES-BARRE – Nanticoke broke the timeout with 20.6 seconds left, needing two points to get its District 2 Class 4A boys basketball semifinal with Tunkhannock to overtime or three points to end it right there.
Trojans coach John Beggs could have chosen to fret about his team’s 2-for-18 effort on 3-point attempts to that point.
Instead, Beggs took comfort in its propensity for making the clutch shot.
The Trojans did not disappoint.
Colby Butczynski’s 3-pointer from high on the right side with 3.4 seconds left held up as the game-winner, sending the Trojans to the district championship game and the state tournament with a 49-48 victory Saturday night at King’s College.
“Their size gives us problem,” Beggs said. “When we got to the rim, they had guys to block our shots. And some of our good post touches wound up as blocks.
“All those things were working against us, so I was actually happy to see us shoot a three when we were down two. It was an open, clean three.”
Butczynski and Nate Kreitzer were a combined 1-for-13 from long range going into the final play.
“Colby has made a lot of clutch shots through the years for us,” Beggs said.
The Tigers had first-hand knowledge that the same could be said of Kreitzer.
Even on an off shooting night, Kreitzer, an all-state guard and his school’s recordholder for career 3-pointers, warranted enough defensive attention on the left side to open space for Butczynski before delivering the cross-court pass that led to the winner.
Butczynski never hesitated in going right up with the winning shot.
“I thought Nate was going to shoot it and then I saw my guy leave,” Butczynski said. “Nate has a great IQ for seeing me and throwing me the ball.
“I just wanted to sink it for the win.”
Butczynski stole the spotlight from Ryan Harder, who had drained a high-arcing, 3-pointer from the left side to put Tunkhannock ahead, 48-46, with 27 seconds left.
“I thought ‘that’s OK, we’re only down by two’,” Butczynski said. “We’ll come down and get a layup and take this into overtime or we’ll finish it by getting another steal and layup.”
Nanticoke never got that close to the basket, but it doing so, it did not have to get a shot over 6-foot-8 senior Avery Billings, who blocked three shots, or 6-5 sophomore Jack Chilson, who blocked two.
Kreitzer finished with 15 points, 5 assists and 4 steals in the game.
Butczynski, who also made 3 steals, and Jake Krupinski added 12 points each. Trahjan Krupinski had 8 points and 10 rebounds.
Harder, Billings and Nick Reposa had nine points each for Tunkhannock. Harder and Reposa each went 3-for-4 on 3-pointers to help the Tigers shoot 50 percent (9-for-18).
Tunkhannock did not trail until the final 2:15 of the first half when Trahjan Krupinski scored the first four points and Kreitzer had the next five in Nanticoke’s 9-0 run to a 24-18 lead.
Harder and Tyler Faux sandwiched 3-pointers around two Billings free throws in an 8-0 Tunkhannock run to a 30-28 lead with 3:23 left in the third quarter.
From there, the teams traded the lead 11 times, were tied twice and were only separated by more than two points for 33 seconds.
When a foul line jumper by Tunkhannock, after the last of those lead changes, bounced off the rim at the buzzer, Nanticoke (21-6) had its spot in the March 2 title game against Scranton Prep (21-3) at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza at 4 p.m.
The loss sent coach Spencer Lunger’s Tunkhannock team into a third-place game for the district’s final state berth.
“They’re a great team,” Beggs said after Nanticoke avenged a one-point, regular-season loss that had temporarily cost the Trojans first place in Division 2. “Spencer’s a friend of mine in the coaching community. He and I share thoughts and share films.
“I hate to see them lose like this, but I wish them well in the third-place game.”