With less than five seconds to play in overtime, Steve Payne '19 drove left around a Manheim Township defender, rose into the lane and nailed an acrobatic layup to deliver the game-winning basket in an 88-86 state playoff thriller at Bensalem High School. Payne's shot was the culmination of a roller-coaster contest that showcased the determination and desperation of state playoff basketball and the refuse-to-lose grit of the 2017-18 Aces.
LM knew they would be in for a battle against the Blue Streaks, who nearly knocked off defending state champion Reading in the District 3 playoffs last week. Manheim Township boasted a deep, talented roster led by dynamic junior point guard Tyler Crespo.
Manheim led for much of the first half thanks to strong interior play, compounded by Aces foul trouble. Josh Martin '19, who paced the Aces with six first quarter points picked up his third foul early in the second frame and had to head to the bench.
With LM's center out of the game and the Aces focused on stopping Crespo, Manheim found success on the offensive glass and built a seven-point lead -- their largest advantage of the game ' midway through the second quarter. But the Aces started to find a rhythm towards the end of the second quarter and kept things tight thanks to threes from Harrison Klevan '18, Jack Forrest '19 and Julian Hairston '19. A Darryl Taylor '19 putback just before the halftime buzzer brought LM within one at 38-37 and gave the Aces momentum heading into the break.
An Isaiah Morgan '18 layup to start the second half gave the Aces their first lead since the opening minute. The Aces and Blue Streaks traded baskets until an LM stop and a Taylor three ball gave LM a 46-42 advantage with less than four minutes to play in the quarter. But Manheim answered, tying the game on a Crespo layup at the 2:48 mark in the period. A Hairston three-ball at the end of the third quarter gave the Aces a 55-52 lead heading into the final frame.
LM appeared to finally seize control of the game in the fourth quarter. Payne attacked the rim for two consecutive layups and found Hairston for another three during a 7-2 run that put the Aces on top 62-54. But Manheim kept chipping away, with several of their role players drilling deep threes to keep things tight. One of those threes pulled Manheim within one at 75-74 with less than 20 seconds to play. The Aces split a pair of free throws, giving Manheim a chance to tie ' which they did ' on free throws with less than eight seconds to play. LM had one shot to win it in regulation, but a desperation floater from Matt O'Connor '19 caromed off the front of the rim.
In overtime, the Aces took the lead on a layup by Payne and a steal and layup from Klevan. LM maintained a four-point advantage at 83-79 with less than two minutes to play (and scored on every possession in overtime), but a three ball and missed free throw gave the Blue Streaks life and the game was tied at 86-86 when Payne went to work. A desperation heave by the Blue Streaks at the buzzer fell short and LM escaped with a dramatic, hard-earned and very sweet victory.
Payne was terrific down the stretch, scoring 18 of his game-high 26 points after halftime and converting seven straight free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime. But LM needed contributions from every player who took the floor to pull out the victory. Hairston (12 points), Jared Robinson '18 (5 points) and Morgan provided a huge lift off the bench, with Hairston's four treys proving critical. Forrest (16 points), Klevan (11 points) and Martin (10 points) also reached double figures.
With the victory, the Aces punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 of States for the first time since 2014. They will take on Neshaminy on Wednesday at 7:30 PM at Council Rock South High School.