Meadville sophomore point guard Armoni Foster is growing up fast.
After sinking a game-tying 3-pointer with 26 seconds left in regulation, Foster recorded a clutch steal and netted four free throws in the final 27 seconds of overtime to fuel the Bulldogs to a thrilling 71-66 win over Sharon in Region 5 action at the House of Thrills.
With the emotional victory, the ’Dogs extended their winning streak to 14 games and are now 15-1 overall and 12-0 in the region. The Tigers dropped to 9-9 overall and 7-5 in the league.
It was a repeat heart-pumping performance between MASH and Sharon as the Bulldogs also prevailed in the first meeting on Jan. 2 on Jason Clune’s game-winning bucket at the final horn for a 64-63 win.
“(Sharon) is a good team,” said Meadville coach Mark McElhinny. “They have some great athletes and they are not a .500 team. They will be reckoned with if they make the playoffs.”
A twice-disappointed Sharon coach Jason Rankin wants another crack at the Bulldogs — in the playoffs.
“We want one more shot against them, and hopefully we will get it in the playoffs,” he said. “Basically, we blew two games against them. In our first meeting, we had an eight-point lead with two minutes left and we had an eight-point lead in this game with nearly four minutes left in regulation. Very disappointing.”
Did you catch Rankin’s latter comment? The Bulldogs trailed 58-50 with 3:44 left in regulation.
How did the ’Dogs come back? A little glass cleaning and Foster’s coolness.
Within 30 seconds apart, Meadville senior forward Alex Parker and junior forward Jason Clune scored on offensive rebounds and the latter Bulldog sank two free throws with 2:47 left on the clock to get them within 58-57.
Leading 60-59, Sharon’s Aubray Jennings — while driving the lane — was fouled and calmly sank two free throws to give the Tigers a three-point lead with 39 seconds left in the regulation,
The Bulldogs’ winning streak over? Foster had other plans.
After a timeout, the Bulldogs tried to get the ball to their money player, Clune, but he was unable to get free ... leaving Foster with an open look from the top of the key.
Bang! Nothing but net.
“Yeah, the play was designed for Jason, but (Sharon) did a great job defending him,” said McElhinny. “What more can you say about Armoni? He is becoming a clutch player for us.”
Foster also blocked Sharon guard Jason Austin’s potential game-tying 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
In the overtime period, Clune scored on a three-point play and senior center Shequon Lindsey canned two free throws to give the Bulldogs a 67-62 lead with 1:20 showing on clock.
The Bulldogs weren’t in the safe-mode yet as Austin popped in two freebies and Jaquan Waller scored on a layup with 49 seconds left in the game to get Sharon within 67-66.
The Tigers then forced MASH into a turnover — giving them a go-ahead scoring opportunity. For the second time in a crunch-time moment, Foster put the dagger in the Tigers’ heart.
Stripping the ball away from Marquez Phillips, Foster recorded his aforementioned steal with 27 ticks on the clock.
The MASH sophomore floor general then sank four free throws to preserve the “W”.
“The kids are calm under pressure,” said McElhinny.
McElhinny & Co. also fought through adversity.
Early in the second quarter, Lindsey and senior forward Faizon McClure were whistled with their second personal fouls and McElhinny was forced to sit them.
With them on the bench, Sharon overcame a 22-14 deficit with an 18-4 run the remainder of the stanza to take a 32-26 lead heading into the locker room at halftime.
Despite the change of momentum, McElhinny wasn’t worried. He knew he had a composed group on his hands.
One in particular: Foster.
“As a coach, you want your team to see adversity,” said McElhinny. “We got back into the game quickly with two quick hoops in the third quarter and were able to match their runs in the second half. It was another good all-around game on our part.”
Clune led the Bulldogs with 29 points and Foster and Lindsey each scored 15.
The ’Dogs will be back in action today as they travel to Ridgway for a non-region game.