By David Willis, Hector Longo & Christopher Smith
---- — The debate about the technical foul called on Ben Judson last night will reign over this region’s hoop circles for a long, long time.
The St. John’s Prep junior was flagged for the T with 44 seconds left in overtime with the Eagles trailing 73-71 and the ball in Central’s possession.
Here’s what happened:
Down two in an amazing 32-point night, Judson went to the hole looking to draw contact. He did as he soared through the air on the left side of the hoop and tumbled out of bounds as the ball rimmed out.
Central picked up the rebound and started slowly up the floor.
And then the whistle blew, stunning the crowd of 3,500.
St. John’s Prep coach John Dullea was dumbfounded.
“I’m not positive (what happened). I think he (the official, who walked over to the Prep bench after the call to try to explain) said Ben might have grazed him when he went by him. It was nothing he said. I wasn’t even looking at it; I was watching the ball,” Dullea said.
“We haven’t had a technical foul all year and that was the worst time to get our first one.”
Every Prep fan on the planet has to be wondering how that call at that time in such a big game could be made.
Was it the difference-maker? No. But it was A difference-maker on the night.
This controversy has just begun.
“Hall” of Fame
Last year, it was the North title win over Lynn English that saw Central’s Aaron Hall awake as an angry sleeping playoff giant.
The call arrived a round earlier this year, as Hall tore up the offensive glass in a 19-point, 11-rebound performance.
Thirteen of the 19 points came in the second half and overtime.
“There’s always a little more motivation in a game against St. John’s Prep,” said Hall.
“Coach told me I had to pick it up and get going at halftime. Luckily, I sat about four minutes (foul trouble) in the second quarter, and I was fresh for the second half.”
Hall, who will pitch at Division 2 Le Moyne University, was awe struck by the atmosphere and the spillover crowd.
“This was crazy,” he said. “I never expected it to be this packed. “
The Pettway Prayers
Things were not going well for Central sophomore A.J. Pettway in regulation. Given a handful of open looks in regulation, the long-range bomber was not on target and went scoreless.
Try telling that to St. John’s Prep.
Pettway made two huge, overtime driving hoops, including one in a wild scramble that banked in to break the Prep’s spirits at 73-71.
“I tripped, and I just wanted to throw it up there before I fell down,” said Pettway, who looked confident late despite the early troubles. “They needed me to step up, so I wasn’t afraid at all.”
Pettway, who transferred in from Worcester North, is still soaking in this postseason.
“I never expected anything like this,” said Pettway. “The ride’s been amazing. And I’ve really enjoyed it a lot.”
To the Max
North Andover’s Max Burt drew the unenviable task of defending his best friend, Central’s Tyler Nelson, all night. The effort drew high praise from the Raiders.
“Max was everywhere tonight,” said Nelson. “He made it tough for me on offense.”
Burt fearlessly closed out his Prep career with 16 points, including his team’s lone overtime field goals.
Another Prep senior, forward Max Butterbrodt of North Andover, closed out his season with a rock-solid 10-point, nine-rebound effort.
Prep/Central odds and ends
Lost in the Central-Prep epic? Sophomore Alec Buresh buried back-to-back three-pointers in the second quarter when Central was starved for offense.
Without them, it could have been a disastrous first half for the Raiders. ... According to the MIAA website, there will be no advance ticket sales for Saturday’s sectional finals at Tsongas Center.
Tickets are available at the door only for $12, and $7 for students and seniors.
Astros 6-7 forward Luke Rosinski scored 15 points but No. 10 seed Pinkerton fell 55-43 to seventh-seeded Bedford in the first round of the Division 1 boys basketball tournament.
Morton scores 27 in loss
Senior guard Jackson Morton poured in 27 points but 18th-seeded Sanborn lost 84-46 to 15th-seeded Mascenic in the first round of the Division III boys basketball tournament.
Windham, Pelham out
The Windham and Pelham girls basketball teams both were eliminated in the first round of the Division II tournament.
Clairee Putnam tossed in 13 points while teammate Lexi Sawyer added 10 points but ninth-seeded Windham lost 43-33 to No. 7 seed Pembroke. The Jaguars lost all three games they played against Pembroke this winter.
Pelham, the 15th seed, lost 70-49 to second-seeded Hanover.
One chance at greatness
Many were asking Andover coach David Fazio for his emotions about his second trip to the Division 1 North finals in his tenure as Andover coach.
But the veteran coach was quick to deflect the credit to his players.
“It’s not about me,” said Fazio.
“It’s about these kids. They had one shot to make the North finals, and they are 1 for 1. These kids are 1 for 1 making the North title game. That is what is important.”
Future and past greatness
Andover will face a daunting task in the North final against Central Catholic and superstar guard Tyler Nelson.
In past trips to the North final, the Golden Warriors took on future NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing (1981) and future NBA Rookie of the Year Ron Lee (1972).
“In my opinion, Andover vs. Central is the best rivalry in the state,” said freshman guard E.J. Perry IV.
“I love those games. Those are the best crowds. It’s going to be unbelievable. In those games, you can’t even hear yourself think.”