Mason Gross never looked at the clock or even the basket.
Gross did not have time to see the clock. He did not have the need to look for the basket.
With a feel for where he was, ingrained from a practice drill, Gross flipped up a blind overhead shot with his back to the basket.
The ball bounced off the backboard and through the net as the buzzer sounded Tuesday night, touching off a celebration in the Pittston Area gymnasium and allowing the Patriots to avoid an upset with a 46-44 victory over Coughlin in the first round of the District 2 Class AAA boys basketball playoffs.
“Fortunately Mason Gross was tough enough to come up with that rebound at the end,” Pittston Area coach Alan Kiesinger said. “When he released it, I knew it was in. He has a tremendous touch around the basket.
"If he stops and looks, there’s no time.”
The clutch basket allowed Pittston Area to advance into Friday’s quarterfinals where it was eliminated by Scranton Prep.
To get to that point, the Patriots needed to work their way back from five down in the fourth quarter.
James Tobisch gave Pittston Area its first lead of the fourth quarter – and only its second lead of the second half – when he converted his second three-point play of the final 4:07.
Coughlin immediately tied the game on two free throws by Nate Oliver.
The Patriots then held the ball for the final 1:19, through four timeouts, the last of which came with 4.4 seconds left, to take a shot at the winning basket.
Gross praised Tobisch, who had 14 of his 22 points in the second half, for the courage to make a strong move to the basket. When Tobisch’sattempt rolled out, Gross had just enough time to pull off the winning shot.
“I told the guards they did a great job of holding the ball up on top and taking care of it,” Gross said. “We could have thrown it away at any time.
“And our coaches did a great job using the timeouts, getting us the last shot.”
A game the Patriots once appeared ready to run away with turned into a second straight battle with the Crusaders, who had struggled all season until upsetting Pittston Area in the final game of the regular season.
Pittston Area took a 9-0 lead in the first 3:10 by hitting four of its first six shots.
Coughlin did not score for the first 6:30 or hit a field goal for 7:07. The Crusaders missed their first 14 shots, failing to convert seven offensive rebounds and blowing an open layup.
Then, they could not miss.
Just 35 seconds into the second quarter, Coughlin was in front, 10-9, after hitting three 3-pointers in 1:28, including Conner Flaherty’s half-court shot at the first-quarter buzzer.
Oliver, who finished with 22 points, had the other two 3-pointers in that streak. He then scored six points in 26 seconds on a 25-foot bomb and a three-point play for an 18-14 lead with 4:37 left in the second quarter.
Coughlin only trailed for 2:17 of the final 22:37, but the inside combination of Tobisch and Gross made sure the Patriots never backed down.
“That was basically the game plan,” Tobisch said. “At halftime, we had shot 75 percent from the lane.
“The lane worked tonight.”
Tobisch also had eight rebounds. Gross had seven rebounds and five assists.
Scranton Prep ended Pittston Area’s season three nights later, holding the Patriots to just seven points for a 19-minute stretch until the game’s final minute during a 57-24 quarterfinal rout at Scranton High School.
“Their talent from top to bottom is unbelievable,” Pittston Area coach Alan Kiesinger said.
The Cavaliers took away the inside game and the Patriots struggled through a horrific shooting night.
Pittston Area finished 9-for-27 (33.3 percent). They made just one of 11 attempts (9.1 percent) from 3-point range, that one coming when Michael Delaney connected with 50 seconds left to end the lengthy scoring drought. They even made just three of 13 foul shots (23.1 percent).
“Mentally, it’s taxing on you,” Kiesinger said. “When you can’t make a bucket, you try harder. Trying harder is not always the answer when it comes to shooting.”
Matt Knowles, who had 12 of his 14 points in the first half, hit a 3-pointer 25 seconds into the game and Scranton Prep led the rest of the way.
Gross and Tobisch worked inside for baskets, sending Pittston Area into the second-quarter television timeout trailing just 18-12 with 3:53 left in the half.
The Patriots managed just one more point the rest of the half, two in the third and four for the first seven-plus minutes of the fourth.
By then, the Cavaliers had a 55-19 lead and a trip to Tuesday night’s semifinals locked up.
“That’s a good effort against anybody at this level,” Scranton Prep coach Joe Ferguson said. “I thought the kids played hard and they played together.”
Knowles hit another 3-pointer to end the half, giving Scranton Prep a 25-13 lead.
James Fives, who also grabbed eight rebounds, then scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half as the Cavaliers ran away.
“I thought they did a nice job in the second half taking Mason Gross away,” Kiesinger said.
Gross had six points, all in the first half, along with nine rebounds and three blocked shots for the Patriots.
Tobisch also had six points while Michael Schwab had six rebounds and three assists.
Pittston Area finished 13-11.
Third-seeded Crestwood ended Wyoming Area’s season Tuesday with a 65-48, home-court victory in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs.
Jordan Zezza hit three 3-pointers while scoring 19 in the loss. Mike Carey made two 3-pointers and added 16.
Crestwood was led by Chris Fazzini with 19 points and Steve Roberts with 15.
Wyoming Area finished the season 3-20.