BROOKLYN, NY - The Boys Championship at the Conrad McRae Youth League in Brooklyn came down to a pair of PSAL Brooklyn "AA" schools.
Heavily favored Thomas Jefferson took on underdog George Westinghouse, and while the Orange Wave handled the Warriors easily earlier in the Conrad McRae tournament, this game took on a very different feel very quickly. Westinghouse got out of the gate quick and took a big lead, but Jefferson never gave up and fought back from double digits down late to grab the 70-69 win for the title.
These two familiar foes stepped on the court early on and it was a back and forth contest through most if the first 8 minutes of the game, guard Malick Riley '16 would take it inside for a Westinghouse, and then guard Shamorie Ponds '16 would go right back on the other end for Jefferson. It seemed like it was tied more often than it wasn't in the first quarter. Ponds scored 8 in the opening quarter, but it was the play of Gerald Williams '16 for the Warriors with his strength on the perimeter along with solid ball control that allowed Westinghouse to grab a 18-17 lead after one.
A big moment in the game came early in the 2nd, Westinghouse head coach Everett Kelley took note of how Jefferson were playing and made a note to made sure to get the ball to their sharpshooting wing.
"One thing I saw was that they were doubling. Everything was double double, so I said we need to find Bogle because we know he can stretch a defense," Kelley said.
He was speaking of wing Justin Bogle '15, and with the Orange Wave defense constantly focused on attacking the ball in the backcourt, it freed up space for the lanky wing to bury 3 threes in the 2nd. Williams and guard Jaheem Page '15 were controlling the glass, and while Ponds was doing all he could offensively to keep Jefferson in the game, the lead for Westinghouse at the half stretched to 49-38.
If this game was telling Jefferson head coach Lawrence "Bud" Pollard anything it was that you can't just expect to win. They had beaten up on Westinghouse earlier in the tournament, but with a dominant 1st half performance, he knew that his team needed to step it up.
"Because we beat them already our guys came back today thinking it was going to be that same team, and it wasn't. They came ready to play from the start and we didn't," Pollard said about his team's 1st half showing.
The 3rd quarter was not looking any better for Jefferson though as Page scored cutting to the basket and it was a 61-47 lead with 3:22 to go in the quarter. Ponds was the lone offensive weapon in the game for the Orange Wave up to this point, but that was soon about to change.
When someone needed to step up and take charge, it was forward Davere Creighton '15 who grabbed the bull by the horns and helped rally his team in the last 3 minutes of the 3rd, scoring 9 straight points to close the quarter as he went on a personal 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 61-54 after three, and Creighton stepping up when his team needed him most was not something that surprised Pollard.
"Shamorie was able to do good things early on but when he started to get doubled big Vere stepped up and got big points for us at a big part of the game," Pollard explained.
It looked as if Westinghouse was going to maintain momentum though, especially after a massive tomahawk slam by Riley got everyone watching the game talking. It was a massive dunk and put the Warriors up 66-58 with just under four minutes to play, but right after that play, Page committed his 5th foul and was done for the day, and it proved to be a major turning point in the game.
"Jaheem can score, he can handle the ball, he is very deceptive, but even more importantly he draws fouls, and we really started to struggle there without him in to get to the line and to get the extra shot attempt," Kelley said.
C.J. Smith '16 made 2 FT's to make it 66-60 and soon after that Ponds stole the ball and easily went in for a layup to make it a 4 point game. Getting the ball across midcourt started to become a problem for Westinghouse, and without their leader in Page in the game, all seemed to be unraveling. Without Page, Jefferson controlled the pace, the play, and the game as the Warriors just couldn't score. Williams, who had dominated for large stretches, didn't get a touch after Page fouled out, and Bogle, whose shot was hot early on, missed his two attempts from long range late.
When Creighton scored off a short putback with 14 seconds left the comeback for Jefferson was officially complete. It was a 10-0 run for Jefferson after Page fouled out and the Orange Wave took a 68-66 lead. Another turnover led to Creighton connecting on a pair of FT's with 8 seconds left to up the Jefferson lead to 70-66.
Bogle made a three from the wing to make it 70-69 with 2.2 seconds left, Westinghouse's first points in nearly 4 minutes, and the Warriors, who looked out of it, were alive again. They pressured the inbounds, but Smith was left all alone on the opposite end of the court and time ran out, with Thomas Jefferson coming back from 14 down to win the Conrad McRae Youth League Championship over George Westinghouse, 70-69.
Ponds led all scorers with 28 for Jefferson in the win, as he was also named Tournament MVP. Creighton added 15, all of which came in the 2nd half, while Smith chipped in 11 for the winners, and Pollard, while happy with the title, knows that this proves that his team needs to come and bring it at all times.
"This was a great coaching point to head into the season," Pollard stated. "The Brooklyn AA is a fight every game and we showed today that we can't just go in and think we can beat people. We got to bring it every night."
For Westinghouse, they were paced by the 17 points of Williams and Bogle, while Page added 15 in the tough loss.
While it was a very tough loss for the Warriors, Kelley knows that this game hopefully proves to his team that they came absolutely compete with the very best this season.
"The positive to take out if this is confidence, and to know that the guys are getting better and that they can compete with the very best in the Brooklyn AA," Kelley admitted.
It was a tough game from start to finish but in the end it's another title for Pollard and his Orange Wave, and while the coach was all smiles after the game, he closed by saying he is still looking and hoping for the ring he so desperately wants, the PSAL Championship ring that has eluded him for so long.
"I got a couple of rings in the past couple of years, I just hope I can get the big one soon."