ALBANY, NY - What started out as an uphill battle for one team, turned into an uphill battle for the other.
On Saturday, the Mt. Vernon Knights needed to get past the Boys & Girls Kangaroos , a highly ranked national power from Brooklyn, NY in order to advance to Sunday's NYS Federation Class AA championship. But when the Roos came upstate with only eight players, Jabarie Hinds and the Knights would literally run away with a 70-63 win.
Fueled on adrenaline, the Kangaroos played as if they had twice as many players during the opening quarter. Rutgers-bound Mike Taylor provided offensive impetus while Leroy Fludd seemed to do the work for both he and Jeff Neverson in the paint. Neverson, a starter, was one of eleven players, MIA for Boys & Girls due to academic issues but that didn't deter the Roos early on as they led 24-17 in the first quarter.
Mt. Vernon head coach Bob Cimmino went deep into his bench, eventually utilizing 13 players, 10 of which played over 7 minutes. That tactic along with playing an up-tempo game while attacking the hole would prove to be a successful strategy in the long run. With 5 minutes remaining in the half, Hinds would give Mt. Vernon a two point lead and soon raise it to 5 points with a trey. The Kangaroos had fight in them and baskets by Taylor, PG Antoine Slaughter and Fludd would reduce the damage, leaving the Roos only down 37-35 at the half.
In the third quarter, the Kangaroos attempted to match the Knights intensity but poor free-throw shooting (19-33) would begin hamper their momentum. Meanwhile, Mt. Vernon was getting scoring from Khalid Samuels and Boys & Girls was getting deeper and deeper into foul trouble.
"I think our man-to-man defense started to kick in," said Coach Cimmino. "I looked down at their bench and I know that they didn't have too many players but they were Energizer Bunnies."
Cimmino said he tried four different defenses in an attempt to wear down the Kangaroos but said that the man-to-man and coming up with the right variation of subs ultimately did the trick. "It was basic basketball. We tried to score more points than they did," he said.
Down 49-43 as the fourth quarter began, Mt Vernon fans began to shout "They're getting tired. Keep attacking." And attack they did. With 4:41 left in regulation, Nichols picked up his fifth foul while Slaughter was burdened with three. 6'0" sophomore Teyvon Meyers, who replaced Neverson and Saequahn Pettus , added some offense early in the game but all but disappeared in the second half. Meanwhile Taylor, who was putting on a courageous performance also seemed to be growing weary.
Boys & Girls, who matched Mt. Vernon 's shooting percentage in the first half at 48%, would drop down to 32% in the second half.
Even with the deck slowly stacking in the Knights favor, the Boys & Girls Kangaroos only trailed by 4 points with 3:07 left to play. 6'3" junior Randy Stephenswould end up being the Knight that took the last bit of momentum from the Brooklyn team, scoring five critical points down the stretch. Hinds would eventually foul out Slaughter as well and the deed was done. Boys & Girls would not have the opportunity to avenge their last season loss to the defending Champion Christ the King Royals.
Hinds was high man for Mt. Vernon with 17 points and 3 assists. Khalid Samuels added 15 points while Stephens poured in 12 points and 10 rebounds. Taylor scored a game high 23 points and 8 rebounds followed by Fludd with 13 points plus 12 rebounds and Slaughter with 11 points and 3 assists.