BETHLEHEM — Nothing seemed to faze Abington Heights junior guard Jack Nealon.
Not guarding Bonner-Prendergast’s top scorer Isaiah Wong, who has already received many offers from Division 1 teams.
Not a frantic end to regulation that resulted in Hershey’s kisses being prematurely thrown on the court and a near buzzer-beater.
Not shooting critical free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime.
His calm demeanor helped Abington Heights hold off District 12 champion Bonner-Prendergast, 56-51, in overtime, in a PIAA Class 5A semifinal game Monday night at Freedom High School.
The District 2 champion Comets will play District 7 champion Mars (25-4), a 62-61 winner of Milton Hershey, for their first state title in boys basketball at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 27 at the GIANT Center in Hershey.
Jack Nealon went 7-for-7 from the free-throw line, and converted six between the fourth quarter and overtime.
“I just smiled… it’s fun to be here,” he said. “There’s no pressure. I just had to make them and I figured if I did, we’d move on.”
Abington Heights (26-3) appeared to win the game in regulation after Wong missed a 3-pointer to tie the game in the final seconds, but guard Jackson Danzig was called for a foul while chasing down the rebound and the Comets were assessed a technical foul after fans tossed candy on the floor and players left the bench before the game was officially over.
Bonner’s Michael Perretta stepped to the foul line for four shots with one second remaining.
He knocked down the first three, leaving Abington Heights’ players to stand helplessly at midcourt with the game hanging in the balance.
Perretta’s fourth shot bounced off the rim, keeping the Comets’ hopes alive.
At least for a second.
Bonner-Prendergast (25-5) had one more shot, but Donovan Rodriquez misfired on a 3-pointer and the game went to overtime.
Abington Heights’ George Tinsley, who was saddled with foul trouble throughout most of the game, took full advantage,
The junior forward scored four of his team-high 18 points in overtime to clinch the win. He made two free throws after making a steal and added a layup on a strong drive to the basket to put the Comets ahead 52-48 with 33 seconds left.
“I knew that we needed to get the first points,” Tinsley said. “Once we got (them), we had a nice cushion of a lead and we could play our game and slow it down.”
Jack Nealon added two more free throws to increase the lead to six before Rodriquez hit a 3-pointer with 13 ticks left on the clock. Danzig closed the game with two free throws, sending the Abington Heights faithful into a frenzy for a second time.
“It’s a dream come true,” Danzig said. “We’ve all been dreaming about this since we were little kids. It’s just unreal right now.”
Bonner-Prendergast started the game with a 10-4 run fueled by 3-pointers from Perretta and James Welde, but Abington Heights withstood the early barrage to trail by just three at the end of the first quarter.
Tinsley scored 10 in the quarter to keep the Comets within striking distance.
“I knew they are really good team and I had to be aggressive,” Tinsley said.
Wong hit a 3-pointer to put Bonner up eight points with 3:35 left in the second quarter, but Jack Nealon followed with a 3 of his own and converted a conventional three-point play later in the quarter. Drew Nealon made a free throw to cut the Comets’ deficit to one before Wong made three free throws right before halftime.
With Tinsley and starting guard Corey Perkins on the bench in foul trouble, several reserves stepped in gave the team quality minutes.
“Some of those guys, like Drew Nealon and Alex Derry, didn’t play much during the year,” Abington Heights head coach Ken Bianchi said. “They came off the bench and did well for us.”
Abington Heights used an 8-1 run to begin the second half to go ahead 35-32. Danzig, who had 15 points and three assists, scored 6 consecutive points during the spurt.
Abington Heights led by five, with 59.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter, after two free throws from Jack Nealon, setting up the chaotic finish.
Wong scored on a drive to the hoop and Rodriquez made two free throws to bring Bonner back within one. Jack Nealon sank two more free throws to give the Comets a three-point lead with 9.7 seconds left.
Wong scored a game-high 19 points, but just four in the second half as Jack Nealon hounded him on defense.
“My coaches challenged me and I had to step up,” Jack Nealon said. “He was their best player and we felt that if I could get him off his mojo, we should be fine.”