By Phil Anastasia
Kyle Green left the court for the last time on his shield.
The Camden Catholic senior led a furious rally that pulled his team to the brink of a momentous upset over rival Paul VI in the second round of the Non-Public South A tournament on Thursday night.
But the buzzer sounded before Green could attempt one final shot, Paul VI students charged the court and the fourth-seeded Eagles escaped with a 52-49 victory over the fifth-seeded Irish in an instant classic before a capacity-plus crowd in Paul VI's gymnasium.
"We wanted this game so bad," Green said. "To come that close in this gym, in this environment, we put it all out there. We were that close."
The 6-foot-5 Green, a Temple recruit, scored 21 points with five rebounds and four assists. He finished his career with 1,734 points, a program record, and willed his team back into contention in one of the most intense games in the rich history of one of South Jersey's best rivalries.
Paul VI junior forwards Jay Howard and Matt Risse took turns guiding the Eagles (25-3), the No. 3 team in The Inquirer Top 10, into Saturday's sectional semifinals against top-seeded Notre Dame, which survived Holy Spirit's upset bid Thursday night.
Howard scored 14 of his 20 in the first half. He also collected five steals and five rebounds.
Risse scored 11 of his 15 in the second half. He scored six in the fourth quarter, making a putback for a 48-44 lead and draining two free throws for a 50-49 lead with 1:49 on the clock.
"I wasn't ready to go home," Risse said. "We all wanted to come back and have another practice."
Paul VI looked in complete command for stretches of the first quarter and again early in the third quarter. When Ivan Robinson and Risse opened the second half with three-point jumpers, the Irish held a 32-18 lead.
But Camden Catholic (20-8) rallied behind Green and senior Brian Matera, who hit a pair of three-pointers. The Irish also got a lift when junior Rob Brosh nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer of the third quarter.
"They're fighters," Robinson said of Camden Catholic's players. "It's the playoffs. Everybody is going to fight."
Robinson, who spent his first two years at Camden Catholic, said the Irish players are "mad at me" for transferring to Paul VI.
"I have so much respect for those guys," said Robinson, who collected 11 points and four assists. "I still love them."
Green led Camden Catholic back into the game in the fourth quarter. He muscled inside for a layup to cut the margin to 42-39, then made a three-point play to pull the Irish within 44-42. His last basket cut the Eagles' lead to 46-44.
"They have such tough players," Howard said of Camden Catholic. "We knew they would fight back."
Matera made a three-pointer to cut the lead to 48-47 at the 2:20 mark. Moments later, Brosh made a steal and hit a jumper to give Camden Catholic its first and only lead at 49-48.
After a timeout, Risse drove the lane, drew a foul and made both free throws for a 50-49 lead.
"This was by far the best game I ever played in," Risse said.
After an exchange of turnovers, Camden Catholic held for the last shot. Irish junior guard Tom Organ got a good look on a runner but his 10-foot shot kicked off the rim and Paul VI's Matt O'Keefe chased down the rebound at 0:04.
Robinson made two free throws at the 0:00.7 mark for the final points. After a timeout, Camden Catholic threw a long pass to Green, but the clock expired before the senior could take one more shot.
"If I had to go out, I'm glad we went out together, as a team, fighting," Green said.
Camden Catholic 8 10 17 14 -- 49
Paul VI 17 9 16 10 -- 52
CC: Kyle Green 21, Rob Brosh 8, Tom Organ 4, Brian Matera 12, Mike Harder 4.
PVI: Jay Howard 20, Ivan Robinson 11, Matt O'Keefe 2, Matt Risse 15, Jair Green 4.
Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.