There was only a moment’s hesitation for Aaliyah Lewis. She took an outlet pass from Jeane Jennings off a missed free throw and went flying down the left sideline with her team trailing by three in the final seconds.
“I slowed up to see what the girl was going to give me,” the Bishop Ford sophomore guard said. “She gave the lane, so that’s when I went up.”
That was followed by a burst to the basket, a layup and a foul. Lewis calmly made the free to put the Falcons ahead by a point with 2.8 seconds left. East Longmeadow was unable to get a final shot off and Ford escaped with an improbable 53-52 win over the Spartans at the Bishop Ford Christmas Classic on Dec. 30.
“She is such the type of player that wants to get others involved first,” Ford coach Mike Toro said. “We told her at some point you’re going to have to say, ‘No, I’m going to take over the game’. Thank God in the game that we needed her to, she did.”
Boy did she ever.
Lewis scored a game-high 25 points, including 10 in the final two minutes, collected 10 steals and dished out six assists. The Falcons (5-5) trailed by four with 1:54 left in the game and five with 18.6 seconds remaining. Each time she brought them back from the brink, something that has earned her the nickname Little Ray Allen from Toro. Lewis connected five times from behind the arc, including once from the right side with 1:44 remaining and again from the top of the key with 11.2 left to pull Ford within 52-50.
“I worked on the jump shot a lot,” Lewis said. “There are times where I hesitate to take the shot. Once I get one I just feel the moment and I get that confidence and I just keep going.”
The Falcons would need some help. The Spartans’ Kylie White torched them for 24 points including five 3-pointers, but she couldn’t finish the game off at the free throw line, missing the front end of a 1-and-1 with 8.2 seconds remaining in the game to set up Lewis’ heroics.
Jennings scored 10 points and had four assists and Tanasia (Sweets) Blake added five points and five boards for Ford. Arielle Ward and Morgan Belanger each added 8 points for East Long Meadow (0-6), which fell 51-38 to Christ the King Wednsday.
“They are going to have to eventually miss one [free throw],” Toro said he told his team during a late timeout. “Thank God they missed one when it counted.”
The victory was an important one for the Falcons. They were playing down two starters. Diani Mason is expected to be back from an ankle injury in two weeks and Shanice Vaughan was stuck in Detroit because of the snow after visiting family there for the holidays. Brittany (Pookie) Martin is expected back in early January. Even Toro is banged up, still recovering a recent hernia surgery.
The short roster led to swings of inconsistency. A 21-10 first quarter lead was trimmed to just 28-27 at the half as East Longmeadow put on a jump shooting clinic to end the second quarter on a 15-4 run. The Falcons burst out of the gate in the third and led 42-35 with 1:42 left. But they couldn’t find offense early in the fourth, scoring just a Blake free throw in the first six minutes to dig themselves a hole.
“That shows that once everybody comes back and if we work hard to the very end we will be able to beat almost anybody in our league,” Jennings said.
The win certainly left Toro feeling confident about the prospects of this team in the new year.
“We get to start the year getting all our kids back,” Toro said. “The last few games teams had fun with us. To start the year we are going to have fun.”