BROOKVILLE, NY - The L.I. Lutheran Crusaders (19-2) are the undisputed top Class AA team on Long Island so far, having been #1 on the NYCHoops Top Ten since week one.
Reminiscent of a boxing match, LuHi looked to unify the NY title belts even before next month's NYS Federation T.O.C. On Sunday, LuHi came one step closer to achieving that goal as they thoroughly beat NYC's #1 Abraham Lincoln (19-5) from start to finish, 58-49.
"I think both of our teams really like to fast break but as good as we are, I thought they might be a little better in watching them," said Crusaders head coach John Buck. As a result, Buck said he decided to make sure his squad got back in transition, forcing the Railsplitters to play against a set defense.
The strategy worked as Lincoln, a Brooklyn, NY team from the PSAL, only held a brief 2-0 lead at the beginning of the game, off a jumper by Trevonn Morton (2 points) and at 6-4 lead with 2:42 left in the first quarter off a put back by Desi Rodriguez (4 points). Each time, Luhi had a response as Tim Quashie (11 points) and Mical Ryan-Boyd (8 points) countered.
While Lincoln's big man Michael Viligance attempted to body Kentan Facey in the paint, the slender 6'9" senior forward used his superior length to not only grab 16 rebounds on both ends of the court but become an offensive threat, scoring 12 points. Facey even put his perimeter game on display.
Luhi's game plan made for a grind 'em out, ugly game as opposed to a up and down fast paced PSAL-type game but Coach Buck believed that was to the Crusader's advantage. Dominating the boards right from the tip off, Facey, a UConn bound senior, wreaked havoc on the Railsplitters who found themselves in a 12-6 hole after the first quarter; a hole that they would never climb out of.
"We definitely needed this win," said Facey who put on a show. "Knowing their history and everything, we knew they were gonna come in here and try to smack us."
LuHi's defensive investment definitely paid high dividends. Isaiah Whitehead (16 points), Lincoln's primary offensive weapon, was held scoreless in the first quarter and had to work for every shot. Railsplitters' recent returnee Shaq Davis (6 points) struggled all afternoon, especially from midrange and Elijah Davis (13 points) was only able to drop 2 points in the first half. Midway through the second quarter, Luhi had amassed a 9 point lead as Tawayne Anderson (13 points and 6 rebounds) and point guard Chris Atkinson (6 points) got transition buckets.
Whitehead and Rodriguez began to heat up late in the quarter but Lincoln would find themselves still in a 29-23 deficit at the half.
"Let's get tough! "barked Coach Buck to his team during the halftime huddle and LuHi responded, increasing their lead to 12 points to start the fourth quarter. Baskets by Anderson inside and an all-in approach to crashing the boards and Crusaders were comfortably ahead by 16 with 3:31 left to play.
Coach Buck subbed out his starters with about a 1:48 on the clock to possibly make a point but the Railsplitters made run that closed the gap to 10 points with 34.4 seconds remaining in regulation. Buck would quickly sub Atkinson back in with 57.8 secs and the sophomore PG finished navigating the Crusaders to the win.
"This was a really good win for the program," said Buck. "Playing a team like Lincoln; they're one of the city's best every year but this is just the regular season so we'll just stick this one in our back pocket."
Coach Buck said that the Crusader's eye is on the ultimate prize which is the Federation Class AA Tournament of Champions in Albany, NY. "This [win] is just trying to get us ready [for the States]," he said.
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