North Yarmouth Academy coach Jason Knight and senior Haven Cutko celebrate after the Panthers rallied from 18 points down to stun Hall-Dale, 59-55, in a Class C South quarterfinal Monday night. NYA will meet Winthrop in the semifinals Thursday.

Brian Beard photos.

More photos below.

AUGUSTA—The monkey is off their back and the resurgence is complete.

North Yarmouth Academy’s boys’ basketball team has returned to prominence.

Monday evening at a raucous Augusta Civic Center, the fourth-ranked Panthers ran the gamut of emotions from despair to hope to nervousness before settling for sheer joy in an improbable, palpitating come-from-behind victory over fifth-seeded Hall-Dale.

NYA, coming off a regular terrific regular season, proved it belonged on the big stage when it scored the game’s first five points, but the Bulldogs then heated up with a vengeance and threatened to run the Panthers out of the gym.

A 17-2 run gave Hall-Dale a double-digit lead and thanks to a pair of long 3-point shots from junior Tyler Nadeau, the Bulldogs held a 20-11 advantage after one quarter.

In the second period, Hall-Dale’s onslaught continued, as junior Jett Boyer sank four 3s and the Bulldogs went up by as many as 18 points, 36-18, but NYA began to show some life late in the half, scoring eight straight points before going into the break down a dozen, 38-26.

The Panthers turned up the defensive pressure in the second half and the Bulldogs stopped sinking 3s. At the other end, NYA began to get the ball inside to freshman Te’Andre King, while senior Jake Malcom was burying shots from outside. A 10-2 run to close the third period, capped by a King layup, drew the Panthers to within five, 50-45.

NYA completed the comeback in the fourth quarter, as Malcom made a layup with exactly 3 minutes to go, tying the score, 53-53.

A leaner from sophomore Alec Byron put Hall-Dale back on top, but after missing a couple of shots, Malcom kept firing and was rewarded with 27.8 seconds on the clock, when he buried the biggest 3-pointer of his life to put the Panthers ahead to stay.

NYA had to weather one final scare, as a Boyer 3 went halfway down before bouncing out and after forcing Hall-Dale to foul, a free throw from senior Haven Cutko and a putback from King as time expired put a punctuation mark on a scintillating 59-55 victory.

Malcom had 23 points, King added 22 and the Panthers improved to 14-5, ended the Bulldogs’ season at 13-6 and advanced to their first semifinal in 11 years, where they’ll battle top-ranked Winthrop (19-0) Thursday at 8:30 p.m. in Augusta.

“I can’t even describe the pride I have in my coach and my teammates,” Malcom said. “It’s unbelievable. We knew we had to keep our heads up and keep pushing. We knew we could win it. It was crucial for us to keep fighting.”

Never surrender

NYA had tremendous success all winter, beating Waynflete for the first time in ages, handing Richmond its lone regular season loss and going on to win 13 games and earn the No. 4 seed in Class C South (see sidebar, below, for links to previous stories).

Hall-Dale also went 13-5, earned the No. 5 seed in the region, then crushed No. 12 Dirigo, 82-42, in the preliminary round Thursday.

Hall-Dale and NYA had no playoff history entering Monday’s tilt.

They certainly made some in 32 memorable minutes.

The Panthers got off to a fast start before the Bulldogs caught fire and built what felt like an insurmountable lead.

A Malcom 3-pointer 35 seconds in opened the scoring and King added a leaner, but the freshman quickly got in foul trouble and Hall-Dale got going.

With 6:30 to play in the first quarter, junior Owen Dupont put the Bulldogs on the board with a layup, then scored another.

With 5:06 remaining in the first, Nadeau put Hall-Dale ahead with a 3 and Byron added a reverse layup to complete a 9-0 run.

A King putback stemmed the tide, momentarily, but sophomore Ashtyn Abbott drained a 3, Boyer made his first 3-pointer and Byron drove for a layup and a 17-7 lead.

With 1:56 left in the first, King was whistled for his third foul and had to sit, further weakening NYA’s chances.

Late in the frame, Malcom got a leaner to rattle home and after Nadeau sank a long 3, junior Connor Dillon pulled the Panthers within 20-11 with a putback.

The Bulldogs looked to put it away in the second quarter, as Boyer started the frame with consecutive 3s to stretch the lead to 15.

After Dillon countered with a short jumper and Malcom made a 3, 10 of the next 12 points went to Hall-Dale.

Nadeau got the run started with a deep 3. After blocking a shot at the defensive end, Boyer buried a 3 at the other and after Malcom set up King for a layup, Abbott made a foul shot and with 3:02 to go in the half, another Boyer 3 allowed the Bulldogs to double up the Panthers, 36-18.

NYA was on the ropes, but instead of buckling, the Panthers showed some signs of life before halftime to provide hope.

Despite being saddled with three fouls, King stayed on the floor and made a layup, then converted another after Dillon broke the press. Malcom followed with a 3 and with 1:05 to go in the half, Cutko sank a free throw, but with 30 seconds left, Boyer made two free throws and Hall-Dale took a 38-26 advantage to the locker room.

In the first half, Boyer led all scorers with 17 points. Malcom had 11 and King 10 for the Panthers, but they had quite the hole to dig out of.

In the second half, NYA began digging and was ultimately rewarded.

A 3 from senior Chandler Waldron provided some optimism to start the third quarter, but Abbott got the points back with an old-fashioned three-point play (leaner, foul, free throw).

King scored on a putback, but Abbott answered with a tough-angle scoop shot.

Malcom made a turnaround jumper, but Boyer made what proved to be his final 3 and after Waldron drove for a layup, Abbott made a layup after a steal for a 48-35 Hall-Dale advantage with 2:47 to go in the third period.

The Bulldogs would score just seven points the rest of the way, however, and the Panthers made their move late in the frame.

A 3 from Malcom got the rally started. After King made a layup, Abbott hit a jumper for the Bulldogs, but Cutko converted a three-point play as he was fouled while making a layup and with 15.3 seconds left, Cutko set up King for a layup, drawing NYA within a manageable five points, 50-45, heading for the fourth quarter.

“We changed up the defense in the second half,” NYA coach Jason Knight said. “We played three-quarters pressure to try and disrupt the flow of the game for them a little bit. We trapped a little more in the halfcourt too. We started the game focusing on one or two guys. We played well defensively in the first half, they were just on fire. That was our message at halftime. (Rallying at the end of the third quarter) was a good momentum shift. It was good to close the gap.”

In the final stanza, the Panthers completed the improbable.

NYA was frustrated early in the frame when it turned the ball over on consecutive possessions, but with 6:49 left, Cutko set up King for a layup and 47 seconds later, Malcom hit a jumper from the elbow to cut the deficit to a single point, 50-49.

“We went into the locker room and Coach told us we weren’t playing badly, they were just making everything,” Malcom said. “We stepped it up a little bit and it paid off in the end. We established the inside game more and worked the ball around more.”

After Hall-Dale got five offensive rebounds in a single possession, but couldn’t make a single follow, the Panthers had a chance to go ahead, only to see Malcom miss.

With 4 minutes to play, the Bulldogs ended NYA’s 9-0 run and a 5:49 drought, when Abbott made a clutch 3, but it wasn’t a dagger, just a momentarily obstacle.

With 3:37 left, King scored on a putback and with 3 minutes showing, Dillon set up Malcom for the layup which tied the game, 53-53.

The Bulldogs went back on top 25 seconds later, when Byron got a leaner to roll around the rim and drop, but that proved to be their final points of the contest.

After Malcom missed, Boyer got the rebound, but Hall-Dale turned the ball over.

Malcom then missed again and Abbott came down with the rebound.

At the other end, Nadeau tried to add to the lead, but he missed and King got the rebound.

Again, the Panthers couldn’t pull even or go ahead, as they committed a turnover, but Nadeau missed again and Malcom got the rebound with under a minute to go and this time, NYA would strike.

Cutko penetrated into the lane, drew the defense, then passed back out to Malcom, who took a step back, behind the 3-point arc, then rose and shot and there was never a doubt, as with 27.8 seconds on the clock, the ball kissed the net for a 56-55 lead.

“It was the heat of the moment,” Malcom said. “I just tried to stay focused and make the shot. I didn’t think about it. It felt good off my hand.”

“Jake knocked down some great shots,” said King. “When he released it, I knew we had a shot at that point.”

“Jake played great tonight,” Knight added. “He can play inside or out. Shooters are going to shoot. He knows the shots he missed weren’t quality shots. Haven had a great play to draw the defense and found the shooter outside. Jake’s really developed his shot over the past year.”

The Bulldogs almost answered, as Boyer had a look at a 3 from the corner that appeared to be going in, but it wound up going in and out before hitting the rim and falling off with Malcom getting the rebound.

“That was scary, but luckily we got the right bounce,” Malcom said.

“My heart skipped a beat there when (Boyer) took that shot,” Knight said. “We had to weather the storm.”

With time winding down, Hall-Dale had to give four fouls and they did so, but the fourth came with just 2.9 seconds showing and sent Cutko to the line for a one-and-one.

Cutko made the first free throw, but missed the second.

It didn’t matter, as King soared in for the rebound, then put the ball home just before the horn sounded and NYA was able to celebrate its 59-55 triumph.

“We found a way,” Malcom said. “It was sheer joy at the horn. We’ve played together for awhile. That’s helped. With the addition of Te’Andre this year, we’ve been able to put it all together.” 

“It feels great to win this game,” King said. “We played as a team and did what we had to do. All year long, our motto is, ‘Don’t get down.’ We stayed in it and made sure we got the win. We changed it up in the second half and the other team got tired.”

“I’m sort of at a loss for words,” Knight added. “I’m so proud of their effort. We were down 18 at one point. This team has been resilient all season long. They don’t let adversity get to them. They find a way to battle. We’re never out of a basketball game. We proved that tonight. We play hard from tip to buzzer. The guys never got down. We held them to 17 points in the second half, five in the fourth quarter. We wore them down.”

The Panthers got 23 points and seven rebounds from Malcom and 22 points and 13 boards from King.

“Te’Andre came in back in the fall and he’s what we needed to balance out the team,” Malcom said. “He’s been phenomenal. He understands what we’re trying to do. I can’t wait to see what he does in the future.”

“Jake and Te’Andre were phenomenal in the fourth,” Knight said. “I second guessed myself for leaving (Te’Andre) out there to pick up his third (foul). I brought him back because we needed muscle to get some rebounds.”

Cutko (seven assists) and Waldron added five points apiece and Dillon wound up with four (to go with four rebounds).

“Connor Dillon came in and gave us some good minutes,” Knight said. “He played more than he has in some time and he was a big factor.”

NYA enjoyed a 39-24 rebound advantage, overcame 15 turnovers and made 3 of 6 free throws.

Boyer paced Hall-Dale with 20 points. Abbott added 16 (to go with eight rebounds and four steals). Nadeau had nine points, Byron six and Dupont four.

The Bulldogs committed 12 turnovers and shot 4 of 5 from the free throw line. 

First time, long time

Thursday, NYA will take part in the semifinals for the first time since 2006 when it meets the top-ranked Ramblers of Winthrop, who will be favored. NYA and Winthrop don’t play in the regular season and have no playoff history.

The Panthers are playing with house money at this point, but they believe they can keep this storybook run going and reach the regional final for the first time since 1999.

“This means a lot for us,” King said. “Nobody really had faith in us, but we believed. I can’t wait until Thursday.”

“We know we’ve got work to do,” Malcom said. “We’ll get back in the gym tomorrow and we’ll be ready for Thursday, that’s for sure.”

“It’s huge to get the monkey off our backs in the quarters,” Knight added. “We’re enjoying the ride. We’ll take the next step. We respect Winthrop, but we don’t fear anybody. We have confidence. Coming off this game, the boys know we can play well.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

NYA senior Jake Malcom shoots a 3-pointer over Hall-Dale junior Jett Boyer.

NYA senior Chandler Waldron passes the ball.

NYA freshman Te’Andre King goes up for two of his 22 points.

NYA senior Haven Cutko drives to the basket.

NYA junior Connor Dillon looks to pass.

NYA seniors Haven Cutko, left, Jake Malcom and Chandler Waldron erupt during the victory.

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