Fulena’s buzzer beater lifts ’Canes
New Castle (59) Vs. North Allegheny (58)
By JOE SAGER
The New Castle High boys basketball team is accustomed to playing close games with North Allegheny.
But the problem for the ’Canes is they had been coming out on the short end.
That all changed last night when Tonio Fulena drained a 3-pointer as time expired to give New Castle an invigorating 59-58 home win.
The triumph was the New Castle’s first over the Tigers since 2006 and first home victory over NA since 2005.
“Ever since seventh grade, it’s always been a battle with North Allegheny,” Fulena said. “We just wanted to get the win in our last year.”
The senior ensured that would happen when he snared a rebound off a missed free throw with 7.6 seconds remaining. He charged up the court and released a shot from beyond the 3-point arc with 2.3 seconds to go. The ball swished and the buzzer sounded.
“I saw a long rebound and came down the floor and wasn’t paying attention to the score or anything. I was just feeling it, so I pulled up and hit it,” Fulena said. “We kept our composure and played as a team. No one worried about who was the leading scorer or who was doing what — we came together and played defense and got the win.”
New Castle coach Mark Stanley had confidence his team could get off a shot before time expired.
“If they missed that free throw, we weren’t going to take a timeout because I didn’t want (North Allegheny) to get set,” he said. “I told the guys to get it up the floor. Tonio stopped on a dime and buried that shot.”
The win was huge for New Castle (3-3) on several levels. The ’Canes saw a lead evaporate Tuesday night at Ambridge in a 57-51 loss. So, the way in which they won last night — after trailing by as many as 15 points (42-27) in the second half — was a boost for the ’Canes, who return to section play tomorrow against Beaver.
Besides, a win over Quad-A North Allegheny (3-2) is good for New Castle — even if the two teams no longer play in the same classification or section.
“I told the guys to enjoy this one. But, we have to come back (today) and get after it again,” Stanley said.
“We needed that. Against Ambridge we lost our composure and (last night) we were able to keep it. We have to keep doing that,” he continued. “To get this one in that method can only help make us mentally stronger, hopefully. We need to take care of some things, but North Allegheny is a good team and that’s a good win for us; it built some character. Hopefully, it’ll carry over to the next two games. It means nothing if we lose (tomorrow). We have to get back to work and focus on our next two section games against Beaver and Blackhawk.”
Mike Cox led the ’Canes with 15 points, seven in the third quarter, to help New Castle fight its way back into the contest.
“Mike is hard to guard. When they got one-on-one matchups on him, he was able to get to the lane and he usually makes good decisions,” Stanley said.
Fulena finished with 11 points, while Stephen Richardson had 11 points and nine rebounds. North Allegheny’s Stephan Batton led all scorers with 19.