His coach said it was Nisine Poplar’s third buzzer beater this season.
His teammate said it was Poplar’s seventh.
Poplar said they both were wrong.
“That was my fourth,” Poplar said.
Everybody agreed on one thing, though: Poplar never has hit a bigger shot than his deep three-pointer that forced overtime and sent Math, Civics and Sciences on its way to a 75-65 victory over Imhotep Charter in the Public League semifinals Tuesday night at South Philadelphia High.
“He’s a special talent,” MC&S coach Lonnie Diggs said of Poplar, a 6-foot-4 junior swingman who is playing just his second season of school-sponsored basketball.
Poplar scored 18 points and senior Tvon Jones added 19 for MC&S (20-5), which advanced to the Public League final for the first time in program history.
MC&S will play Simon Gratz in the title game Saturday night at the Liacouras Center at Temple University.
Gratz advanced with a 70-39 victory over Lincoln in Tuesday night’s second semifinal.
“I’m just too happy, I can’t even explain it,” Poplar said of his three-pointer from well behind the top of the key that tied the score at 59 with 0:05 remaining in regulation.
Poplar and Jones both scored five points in overtime as MC&S pulled away from an Imhotep Charter team with its top three interior players on the bench after fouling out in regulation.
Sophomore Naji Reid scored 20 points and senior Sami Wylie added 17 for Imhotep Charter (19-7), which will look to regroup for the District 12 Class 4A playoffs.
“This means everything,” Jones said. “There’s six seniors on this team and we wanted it more.”
The foul-filled game was played before a near-capacity crowd in South Philadelphia’s cavernous gym. Several times in the second half and overtime, the referees stopped play and the public-address announcer implored fans who were lined up behind MC&S’s basket to take a seat.
Imhotep Charter led by 19-8 after one quarter and 38-24 at the half. The Panthers still held a 57-49 lead after senior forward Elijah Taylor, a Notre Dame recruit, muscled inside for a layup with 2 minutes, 41 seconds left in regulation.
“I have to admit, I had my head down,” Jones said.
For Diggs, it was confirmation of the fears that kept him up for much of the night. The coach said he was awake at 3 a.m., looking up past results and noting that the Mighty Elephants were 0-6 in Public League semifinals since 2009, with four of the losses to Imhotep Charter.
“They’ve been the gold standard in this league,” Diggs said.
MC&S rallied late with some strong work from senior forward Naadhir Wood (13 points, seven rebounds), senior guard Marcus Middleton (five of his nine points in the fourth quarter) and Poplar, who admitted he was frustrated for much of the game by the Panthers’ box-and-one defense.
“Our heart kept us in it,” Jones said. “ We got a bunch of North Philly and South Philly kids. We grew up on heart.”
Wood scored inside and Poplar hit a short jumper off the move to make it 57-53. Poplar’s two free throws at 1:01 cut the margin to 57-55, but Imhotep freshman Rahmir Barno hit a twisting layup in traffic for a 59-55 lead at the 0:45 mark.
Jones made one free throw to cut the lead to 59-56 at 0:29. After Imhotep missed a pair of free throws, MC&S called a timeout at 0:13.
“We wanted to get it to him,” Diggs said of Poplar. “He’s unflappable.”
After the inbounds pass, Poplar took a handoff from Middleton, squared up and hit nothing but net from around 24 feet.
“We knew he was going to hit that,” Jones said. “That’s our bread and butter. He’s hit like seven buzzer beaters all year.”
He’s hit seven, maybe. Or three, possibly. Or four, perhaps.
But none compared to the shot that sent the Mighty Elephants to the Public League title game.
MC&S 8 16 11 24 16 – 75
Imhotep 19 19 3 18 6 – 65
MC&S: Marcus Middleton 9, Nisine Poplar 18, Tayshon Nixon 5, Tvon Jones 19, Naadhir Wood 13, Nadir Barron 5, Zakee Fleming 5, Jabaar Slaughter 1.
IC: Naji Reid 20, Rahmir Barno 11, Justin Edwards 4, Elijah Taylor 6, Sami Wylie 17, Kamrohn Roundtree 2, Enai White 5.