The Worcester 78s, the city’s professional ABA basketball team, played its first playoff game in team history in New Jersey on Saturday night and lost by one point — 110-109 — on buzzer-beating three-point by the Jersey Express’ Jason Smith from nearly 40 feet from the basket.
Five 78s players scored in double-digits, with Tom Garrick the only player scoring more than 20 points. Tony Gallo, Kamahl Walker,
Sam Longwell and Sean McCarthy all scored in double-digits.
After falling behind early in the first quarter, the 78s rallied after halftime to take a lead that grew as large as 14 in the fourth quarter. They never relinquished the lead again until the final moments of the game.
Jersey All-Star and MVP candidate Antoine Obery had a triple double (19 pts, 16 reb, 10 ast) and Russell Thompson had a season high 39 points.
78s team owner Tom Marino said the loss was “brutal.”
“It will sting for a bit, as it should. In the big picture, we pushed the ABA’s oldest existing franchise to a shot from 40 feet to send us home. That doesn’t make sitting at home feel any better,” Marino said.
Numerous Technical Fouls
Although the game was exciting and may turn into an ABA classic, action was ground to a halt by several technical foul calls by the game officials. There was only one player ejection, but the number of technical fouls amounted to more than ten.
The Express had more than half the calls go against them, which Marino called “an embarrassing episode” for the game’s officials.
“I didn’t see what happened with all of them, but I know I saw players for Jersey called for things they did not say and expressing frustration that wasn’t directed at the refs or said to the refs,” Marino said.
He also recalled that with around five or six minutes left in regulation a 78s player was assessed for “a very borderline hanging on the rim call.”
“It’s unconscionable in a playoff game,” he added. “It has to be fixed.”
A Lot Of Work To Be Done
The 78s intend to return next year in the ABA and remain in Worcester, but Marino says the team must do a better job on and off the court.
He hopes to keep Coach Anthony “Leo” Leonelli and bring back many of the players from this roster.
Marino said what needs to improve most is himself.
“I didn’t do a good enough job introducing our team and how we play the game to our city. No one involved in this thing needs more improvement than I do,” Marino said.
The 2018-2019 ABA season begins in November.