By Phil Anastasia
TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- It was an unforgettable comeback.
It was an unfathomable ending.
Pitman rallied from a 13-point deficit late in the third quarter to tie Linden at 60-60 with 10 seconds remaining in Tuesday night's pulse-pounding Tournament of Champions quarterfinal.
What happened next nearly defied comprehension.
Pitman was hit with a technical foul at the 0:02 mark for having six players on the court, and Linden used the resulting free throws and possession to emerge with a 64-60 victory.
"It was a fluke," Pitman coach Kevin Crawford said after the game at Toms River North. "I take full responsibility. Part of me wants to crawl into a hole but the man in me knows I have to stand up and be a leader for this team and take responsbility."
Crawford had been frantically mixing and matching players in a substitution rotation through much of the fourth quarter because of foul trouble to three of his top athletes.
The coach indicated that likely resulted in the mixup that occurred after Linden called timeout at the 0:10 mark with the score tied at 60-60 after Pitman senior Eric Stafford hit one of two free throws.
"I don't want to throw anybody under the bus," Crawford said. "It's my responsibility. Not a 17-year-old kid. The 35-year-old coach."
The technical foul was called after eight seconds ran off the clock as Linden inbounded the ball and raced up the court. Linden coaches and man Linden fans were screaming at officials that Pitman had six players on the court.
"It's hard to understand," Stafford said. "It's like we didn't lose the game."
Pitman (25-8), the Group 1 champion, rallied behind Stafford (13 points, four assists) and senior guard Darnell Foreman (23 points, five steals).
Foreman hit a deep three-point jumper, then converted a layup in transition after a block by Tyler Wisniewski (10 points, six rebounds) to tie the score at 57-57 with 2:45 on clock.
Linden (27-4), the Group 4 champion, took a 60-57 lead when Juwan Dolbrice made a three-pointer with 2:07 to play.
Pitman but the deficit when junior Tim Delaney (nine points, six rebounds) made a left-handed jump hook. After a Linden offensive foul, Stafford drove the lane and was fouled at the 0:13 mark.
"I got chills on the foul line," Stafford said. "I was thinking, 'We're going to beat the Group 4 state champions.'"
Stafford tied the score on the first free throw but missed the second. Linden corralled the rebound and called timeout, leading to one of the strangest endings in the history of the state tournament.
"We pulled a Chris Webber," Crawford said, referring to the former Michigan player's infamous timeout call.
Pitman 18 8 14 20 -- 60
Linden 14 20 15 15 -- 64
P: Tim Delaney 9, Eric Stafford 13, Darnell Foreman 23, Tyler Wisniewski 10, Matt Spicer 3, Dave Collinsworth 2.
L: Quadri Moore 19, Otis Livingston 8, Alonzo Hamilton 2, Juwan Jones 11, Juwan Dolbrice 8, Rick'Keem Mixson 11, Quinton Dixon 5.
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