Leading by 15 points with less than six minutes remaining, Jim Thorpe appeared poised to cruise down the homestretch for an easy victory.
Instead, the Olympians nearly crashed and burned before reaching the finish line.
Pine Grove staged a frantic rally to get close and had three possessions in the final 90 seconds with an opportunity to tie the game. The Cardinals could never pull even, however, and Jim Thorpe finally sealed the 63-59 Schuylkill League win when Sam Lux buried a pair of free throws with :01 remaining.
"I'm not happy with how we played, especially in the fourth quarter," said Jim Thorpe coach Brian Carroll. "We told the kids in the locker room that it was an awful performance, but somehow we got the 'W.'"
The victory kept the Olympians unbeaten on the season.
"I guess the bottom line is that we found a way to win without playing our best," said Carroll. "It was a struggle, but it's nice to be 5-0."
Jim Thorpe was able to stay undefeated thanks to an excellent start to both the game and the second half.
The Olympians jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead as all five starters Rashid Epps, Corey Cinicola, PJ Johnson, Sam Lux and Dean DiBonifazio – had points in the opening two minutes of play.
Pine Grove eventually closed the half strong, however, and cut the Olympian lead to 32-31 at halftime.
The start of the third quarter was a repeat of the way Thorpe began the game as Cinicola scored six points and Epps added four during a 12-2 Olympian spurt. By quarter's end, the Jim Thorpe lead had grown to 53-39.
"We're a young team. Tonight we started three sophomores," said Pine Grove coach Dave Archer. "One of the biggest problems with young players is consistency.
"With young teams it tends to be all or nothing. They always seem to be swinging for the fences. The problem with that is that although you're going to hit some home runs, you're also going to strike out a lot and tonight we struck out in the third quarter."
The Cardinals (2-3, 0-2) did regain their hitting stroke in time to make it interesting down the stretch.
After a DiBonifazio free throw stretched the Olympians' lead to 56-41, Pine Grove began its rally.
Behind six points from Kyler Burke, the Cardinals fought back. When Dave Fehr hit a twisting layup, the Thorpe lead had been cut to 59-56 with 1:58 to play.
The Olympians missed a pair of one-and-ones and committed two of their nine fourth-quarter turnovers down the stretch, but still hung on as Cinicola and Lux buried key free throws in the final seconds.
"Give Pine Grove credit. They never quit," said Carroll. "But we need to work on taking better care of the basketball and making better decisions when we have the lead.
"That's something we'll be working on in practice because we aren't going to win very many games making the kind of mistakes we did down the stretch."
Jim Thorpe won the JV game 52-38 behind 14 points from Darius Clark.
Smith 4-2-4-11, Rossi 1-0-0-2, Zimmerman 3-3-4-10, Blouch 1-0-0-3, Bohn 1-0-0-2, Hoffman 3-0-0-9, Burke 5-3-4-13, Fehr 2-0-1-4, Hafer 2-1-2-5. TOTALS: 22-9-15-59.
DiBonifazio 3-1-4-8, Lux 5-2-3-12, Epps 6-3-8-15, Cinicola 5-7-8-17, Johnson 2-0-0-4, Mickens 0-0-0-0, Richardson 3-0-0-7, Clark 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 24-13-23-63.
Pine Grove12 19 8 20 - 59
Jim Thorpe 17 15 21 10 – 63
Three-pointers: PG – Hoffman 3, Smith 1, Zimmerman 1, Blouch 1. JT – Richardson 1, DiBonifazio 1.