GREEN — With less than four minutes left Friday night and Green desperately trying to rally, Jackson’s Anthony Mazzeo drove, took contact, made the bucket and nodded at the purple and gold student section.
This was his game. This was his night.
And he was making sure the Federal League championship was staying in Jackson Township for another year.
Mazzeo scored 30 points on a night when points didn’t come easy and led Jackson to a 59-49 win at Green in front of a sellout crowd of 1,800.
The Polar Bears (15-3, 9-2) clinched at least a share of their fifth consecutive league title and eighth in the last 10 years. They can win it outright by beating Hoover next week.
“This one’s sweet, man,” Jackson coach Tim Debevec said. “This one’s special. They’re all special, but this one is different because people were doubting and questioning our program. ‘Maybe it would go down the tubes?’ I never doubted these guys all year long.”
To Debevec’s point, Kyle Young and Logan Hill aren’t around any more. Neither is Jaret Pallotta. That’s some serious star power to graduate from a program over the course of a couple of seasons.
But still around is Mazzeo, the final rotation player remaining from Jackson’s 2017 state championship team.
The 6-foot-3 guard made his first five shots Friday and never cooled off despite carrying the dual burdens of shot-making and ball-handling for Jackson.
He was a sophomore role player in 2017. Now, he’s the unquestioned senior leader.
“It was just a killer’s mentality tonight,” said Mazzeo, who scored 13 of Jackson’s first 22 points. “I had it coming out the gate. I just knew this was a game I’ve been wanting for a long time. This was probably one of the most important games of my career, especially with my role on the team this year. It was awesome performing like that after all the hard work I put in.
“It was just awesome sharing it with my guys.”
In a chippy, foul-plagued game that lacked much flow, Jackson finally got some separation in the third quarter. After falling behind 29-28 on a difficult scoop shot by Green senior star Kaleb Martin, Jackson answered by outscoring the Bulldogs 13-2 over the final seven minutes of the third.
Senior Sean Reed, junior Trent Jones, junior Jake Aleman and senior Will Hyde all made buckets in that stretch to complement Mazzeo. Green went more than eight minutes without a field goal.
When Martin made a 3-pointer to give Green some life early in the fourth quarter, Mazzeo answered with a 3 of his own just 10 seconds later to silence the home crowd and send the Jackson fans into a frenzy.
Mazzeo finished 8-of-11 from the floor and 4-of-5 from deep. He made 10-of-16 foul shots, including 7-of-11 in the fourth quarter to help put the game away.
Martin led Green (13-4, 9-3), which shared the league title with Jackson and Lake last year and could have clinched it outright Friday, with 21 points. He had to earn every one of them. Junior Donovan O’Neil added 15 points and seven rebounds. The Bulldogs were 2-for-18 from the 3-point line.
“I just felt that we didn’t play together like we’ve been playing,” Green coach Mark Kinsley said. “Our ball movement wasn’t good tonight. We got too much one-on-one in multiple spots.
“And I thought Mazzeo was just outstanding.”