The play wasn’t designed for Danny Ashley. But when Ashley and Craig Brown locked eyes from across the court, they deviated from the plan. Uniondale was overjoyed that they did.
Trailing by one with 1.1 seconds remaining and inbounding under his own basket, Brown heaved a pass across midcourt to Ashley just in front of the Knights’ bench. With a defender draped all over him, Ashley took one stride to his right and shot from the right wing, about six feet beyond the three-point arc. It found the bottom of the net as the buzzer sounded, earning host Uniondale (16-3, 10-1) an exhilarating 75-73 Nassau AA-I victory over Freeport Tuesday night.
Pandemonium ensued, as the Uniondale faithful rushed the court.
“Coach drew up a great play,” said Ashley, who had 16 points and eight assists. “I was actually supposed to set the screen for Zion (Styles). But, knowing he had the hot hand, I knew Freeport was going to sit on him. So me and Craig kind of made full-court eye contact and I faded to the left.
“I just turned around and shot it and it went in. Craig made a great pass.”
Did he immediately believe the shot somehow would go in?
“Not when it first left my hand. But as it was in the air, I had a feeling that it would.”
“I knew as soon as he looked at me he was going to make it,” said Brown, who had 14 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
Moments before Ashley’s buzzer-beater, Freeport’s Rajah Mayo took an inbounds pass with 8.3 seconds to go, went coast to coast and converted a lefthanded finger roll that tied it at 73 with 1.1 seconds left. He was fouled on the play and knocked down what the Red Devils originally believed to be the winning free throw.
Freeport (10-9, 7-5) led throughout much of the night behind 19-point efforts from Rollin Bell and Chris Gross. A 12-3 run to end the second quarter gave the Red Devils a 40-31 advantage. The Knights trailed 52-49 entering the fourth.
Styles, who had 23 points and five assists, tied it at 70 on a left corner three-pointer with 12 seconds left. After being fouled on a loose ball, he nailed two clutch free throws to put Uniondale ahead by two.
Once Freeport regained the lead, Tom Diana drew up the final play for Styles. Brown and Ashley improvised and encountered jubilation.
“Reminded me of Sunday’s Super Bowl,” Diana said. “We overcame a tremendous amount of adversity. That was a tough shot. When it went up, we were all praying it went in. I can’t say that I knew it would.”