The anticipation had been building for weeks as the two best teams in New York would finally meet head-to-head fully loaded in a rematch.
NYC No. 1-ranked Brooklyn (N.Y.) Abraham Lincoln (19-5), ranked No. 48 nationally in the RivalsHigh 100, had won the first game in December by two points. But the NYC No. 2-ranked Brooklyn (N.Y.) Boys & Girls (18-5), ranked No. 18 in the RivalsHigh 100, was minus its starting point guard.
On Tuesday at L.I.U. (Brooklyn Campus), Lincoln would win the rematch, 61-56, but once again the win would be anticlimactic.
"I'm mad," said a visibly irritated Lincoln head coach Dwayne "Tiny" Morton after the game. "Where was Mike Taylor?"
Listed on the PSAL website as "inactive," a source close to the situation confirmed that Taylor's glaring absence was due to academic issues and Boys & Girls Principal, Bernard Gassaway's policy with regard to those issues. During the first match-up, the Railsplitters won but the win was overshadowed by the absence of point guard Antoine Slaughter who was "inactive" for the same reason.
"I'm kind of disappointed in [Taylor], not the principal's decision," said Boys & Girls head coach Ruth Lovelace. "You let down the team, let down the program. But he clearly knew. It's not like it's something he didn't understand."
Taylor is part of the team's senior leadership and Boys & Girls best perimeter shooter. His absence forced Lovelace to switch up her starting line-up and strategy. With 6-9 senior Nkosi Brown (2 points) starting in place of Taylor, and Slaughter and Malik Nichols sharing point guard duties, the Roos played 'big ball' battling the Railsplitters in the paint.
The Kangaroos ran a motion offense against Lincoln's zone defense which forced Boys & Girls to either shoot from the perimeter or try to attack inside where the bigs, including 6-11 Jordan Dickerson, waited. Jeff Neverson (13 points) chose the latter but it was a three-ball by Slaughter (17 points) that gave the Roos an 11-6 advantage going into the second quarter.
Boys & Girls continued going strong to the hole and either scored or drew fouls. The Kangaroos were initially successful in this approach and would go on a 6-0 run before Lincoln countered. Shaquille Stokes (18 points, 6 assists) began to assert himself sparking an 8-1 Railsplitters run. With 2:18 remaining in the half, a dunk by Kamari Murphy (14 points, 8 rebounds, 6 blocks) would pull Lincoln to within four points of the lead. The two Brooklyn squads would exchange points and end the half with Boys & Girls still ahead, 22-18.
Murphy would quickly knock the Boys & Girls lead down to a bucket early in the third quarter and a jumper by Reuben King (11 points) would eventually knot the game at 22 with 7 minutes on the clock. Slaughter responded with a trey but freshman Isaiah Whitehead (12 points) would go coast-to-coast and with 4:41, Stokes gave Lincoln their first lead, 29-27.
Leroy Fludd (11 points), who was quiet in the first half, would begin to provide some offense for the Roos. That plus buckets by Anthony Hemingway (5 points) and Slaughter kept Boys & Girls tied with 52 seconds left in the third but a buzzer-beating dunk by Murphy gave the Railsplitters the lead for the first time at the end of a quarter.
Nichols (7 points) dropped a 3-ball at the top of the fourth to regain the lead for the Kangaroos but a lay-up by Stokes and a runner by Whitehead put Lincoln back in front, 42-39, with 6:43 left in the game.
The Kangaroos remained within range of the Lincoln but a jumper by King gave Lincoln its largest lead at six points. A shootout ensued as both teams put up shots. On a couple of occasions, the Kangaroos cut the lead down to two points but each time Lincoln would re-extend the point spread. Unable to get over the top, the Kangaroos would end up losing again to the Railsplitters, this time, by five points.
While coach Morton was happy about the win, which clinched the PSAL Brooklyn 'AA' division, he expressed his disappointment at the Kangaroos once again not being at full strength.
"We didn't get a chance to see how good we really are," he said.
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