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Rodriguez scores 29 points as St. Joseph stays hot with overtime win over crosstown rival Hammonton

HAMMONTON (N.J.) - St. Joseph Academy boys basketball coach Paul Rodio abruptly loosened and removed his tie out of frustration as he paced the sideline.

The Wildcats trailed by four points to crosstown rival Hammonton with 1:08 left in regulation. Arnaldo Rodriguez cut the deficit to two with a pair of free throws, but the Blue Devils drew a foul and went up by three with only 40 seconds left.

Say goodbye to the tie.

Then freshman Will Spross buried a three-pointer from the right wing to tie the contest at 64-64 with 31 seconds left.

Slowly but surely, Rodio began to realign his tie.

The game wasn't over. His wardrobe needed to remain intact.

Spross' timely shot, paired with one last defensive stand, forced overtime. The Wildcats proceeded to outscore Hammonton 10-3 over the four extra minutes to earn a 74-67 triumph on Friday night.

"I was completely shocked," Spross said. "I knew if I ran to the corner that 'Naldo' was going to trust me. That's my boy. He hit me and I felt confident in myself and just let it go."

St. Joseph has won eight out of its last nine contests and improved its record to 10-5 with the victory.

Rodriguez tallied 22 of his game-high 29 points in the second half.

The senior also scored the Wildcats' first 10 points of the fourth quarter before utilizing a deceiving shot fake at the free throw line to deliver an assist to Devon Theophile to give St. Joseph a 58-56 advantage with 3:38 left in the frame.

The veteran guard stepped up when his team needed him the most.

"The game was close. Coach Rodio just told me to get the ball in my hands," Rodriguez said. "He trusts me a lot. My teammates trust me a lot. We just got stops, more and more, and every time we got a stop we scored."

The Wildcats led by as much as 10 points in the opening period, but Hammonton didn't go away. The Blue Devils grabbed their first lead of the contest with 7:51 left in the third quarter. The contest evolved into a back-and-forth affair for the remainder of regulation.

The fourth quarter saw 12 lead changes.

"I'm just really proud," Rodio said. "My group of kids, and it's not always pretty, have been doing this for a couple weeks. Dog fights, buzzer beaters, double overtime. We've had three games this week all like this. I'm happy that they're responding and finding ways to win."

Kenny Smith powered the Blue Devils with a team-high 25 points. Overbrook transfer Nic Johnson poured in 13 and Azzir Smith-Bey scored eight of his 11 points in the fourth quarter.

St. Joseph also alleviated a narrow loss to Hammonton a season ago.

"I give credit to their coaching staff the last two years," Rodio said. "It's been a dog fight. The last two or three games have went to overtime or double overtime. I'm just happy our kids fought. For them it's an emotional game. They want to take their town back as they say.

"Hammonton's tough. They're going to be tough. That kid Kenny is unbelievable."

Each of SJA's last three wins were earned in dramatic fashion.

Rodio's squad used a 32-point second half to erase a one-point halftime deficit and edge rival Holy Spirit on Thursday. A buzzer beater by Shamar Cox lifted the Wildcats past Ocean City on Tuesday.

Theophile recorded a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Cox contributed nine points in Friday's victory.

"We lost to them last year," Rodriguez said. "This game was really big for us. We swept the week."

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