PLANO — No one in the gymnasium at Plano High School Friday for the Seneca-Newark game was surprised that it was a defensive struggle.
What was surprising was that the Fighting Irish allowed 22 of Newark’s 36 total points during a third quarter lapse that saw what had grown to a 19-10 Seneca lead early in the third quarter turn into a 32-26 Norsemen lead heading into the fourth quarter. Newark outscored the Irish 22-9 in the third stanza.
“That’s two … no, really three games in a row that we’ve allowed sizeable third-quarter leads to get away from us,” said Seneca coach Russell Witte. “We started settling for bad shots on offense and we allowed our bad decisions on offense to transfer to the defensive end. We were basically panicking out there. We keep telling the kids to stay calm. We definitely need to have better composure when things aren’t going our way.”
Things went just fine for Seneca in the first half. The Irish played in-your-shorts defense and absolutely stifled Newark’s offensive attack. Seneca was also very patient offensively, grinding out several long possessions. While not every possession led to a score, the Irish were able to keep the ball out of the hands of Newark’s outstanding 1-2 punch of senior Brett Anderson (10 points) and freshman Jack Clausel (17 points).
The game was 9-5 Irish after the first quarter. A Clausel three-pointer cut that lead to 9-8 but Seneca scored the next six points to go up 15-8. The teams traded baskets after that and the score stood at 17-10 Irish at the break.
The third quarter started out well enough for Seneca. Conlan Callahan (seven points) scored off an offensive rebound to put the Irish up nine. Peyton Schrag (five points) then hit a three ball following two Clausel buckets for Newark, and the Irish lead stood at 22-14. Newark scored the next nine points to go ahead 23-22. The teams then traded hoops before the Norsemen scored the next seven to push their lead to 32-24. An Austin Applebee floater cut the lead to six at the end of the third.
But Newark’s duo wasn’t finished yet. The Norsemen extended their lead to 36-26 near the seven minute mark and compounded with foul trouble for the Irish, it looked as though the Irish were going to fall for the second consecutive night after reeling off eleven straight wins to open the season. But following Clausel’s two free throws with just under seven minutes to play, Newark wouldn’t scratch the scoring column again.
Callahan hit a three-pointer to cut the Norsemen lead to 36-29 at the 6:50 mark. A minute and a half later, Jimmy David (12 points) connected from long range and the lead was down to four. The Irish defense continued to clamp down, even forcing what appeared to be a five-second violation on an inbounds pass. It was ruled that Newark coack Rick Tollefson had called a timeout before the violation occurred, much to the displeasure of the Seneca faithful.
“Our fans were getting upset at the foul situation but we just told our guys to stay calm and do what we do,” said Witte.
Seneca center Chris Lee (four points, nine rebounds) converted on two free throws after being fouled on a put back attempt following an offensive rebound to tie the game at 36 with 2:42 to play. It then seemed as though no one could figure out a way to score. Seneca ran the clock down but failed to convert. Newark then attempted to do the same but missed on its attempt and David was fouled by a Newark defender who just got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time near half court with 1.5 seconds to play.
Newark called a timeout, but following the break, David stepped to the line and connected for a 37-36 lead. Then Witte called timeout.
“We told him during that last timeout to miss the shot on purpose,” said Witte. He added “With only 1.5 to play, a two-pointer or a three-pointer beats you, and we wanted to make sure they had to attempt it off a rebound rather than taking it out and running a play. All they could get off was a full-court heave.”
“I was proud of Peyton (Schrag),” said Witte. “Anderson really started to hurt us in the third so we switched Peyton to him defensively and he never scored again after that. That really enabled us to pull this one out.”
Seneca will conclude play at the Plano Christmas Classic on Saturday when it takes on the Hinckley-Big Rock Royals at 5:30 in the fifth-place contest.