NYCHoops - LuHi Stuffs Ravens to Win Slam Dunk
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LuHi Stuffs Ravens to Win Slam Dunk

WHITE PLAINS, NY- For Long Island Lutheran, Saturday's performance was nearly the perfect end to a perfect two days of play in the Slam Dunk Tournament at the Westchester County Center.

They cruised past Curtis with ease 83-54 on Friday to advance to Saturday title game tilt with St. Raymond's with a matchup against one of the CHSAA's best expected to present more of a challenge to this young Crusaders team.

That didn't prove to be the case because as while young, this Crusaders squad looks to be as good as any in recent memory as they are deep, talented, and extreme not potent offensively. Add to that their superb defensive play and you have a team that has the makings of one who could finally get over the hump for a Class AA Federation Championship this season.

Big man Essam Mostafa '19 was fantastic as he had 18 points on 8 of 9 shooting from the floor to earn Tournament MVP honors as he helped lead LuHi to a comfortable 69-52 victory over the Ravens to claim their first ever Slam Dunk title.

Out of the gate it was all Crusaders as Mostafa had 6 points in the first 2:30 of the game, with Tyler Stephenson-Moore '19 also scoring quickly as Long Island Lutheran would jump out to the quick 8-0 lead. St. Raymond's would call a timeout to try and settle things down as Crusaders head coach John Buck said it was the perfect start with what he was looking for out of his group.

"Coming in playing back to back we showed we were ready to play, "Buck stated. "No let down and got after it."

The Ravens were able to stem the tide a little bit through the rest of the opening quarter as Jalen Reneau '19 was able to connect in the lane off the dribble as St. Ray's was trying to scrap and fight to stay close, but once the second quarter got underway LuHi took their play to another level.

Jalen Celestine '20 opened the stanza with a three, and that was followed up by three balls of their own from Andre Curbelo '20 and Hugo Bergstrom '20 as the Crusaders opened up a 28-10 lead with 6:10 to go in the half, asserting control of the game and giving themselves a very comfortable cushion.

Stephenson-Moore, MVP Essam Mostafa & Andre Curbelo
Stephenson-Moore, MVP Essam Mostafa & Andre Curbelo (M. Libert)

With Curbelo finishing the first half in style with a beautiful coast to coast drive and bucket, Long Island Lutheran held a 36-16 lead at the break looking as good as ever in all facets of the game with their length inside causing the St. Ray's guards all sorts of trouble when they tried to get to the basket, while also connecting on five opening half three's showing off their range from the outside.

Add in the performances of Mostafa and Zed Key '20 around the rim and like Curbelo would say after the game, it was as strong an opening 16 minutes as the Crusaders could've hoped for.

"We played hard from the beginning and learned things from the game yesterday and came out and played well and made shots and got out to a good lead," Curbelo said.

It was more of the same the rest of the way as midway through the third quarter LuHi would take their biggest lead of the game at 48-22 after a beautiful pass from Curbelo was finished off with thunderous authority by Drissa Traore '21 with the power slam. A punctuating point for everything Long Island Lutheran could do, and did it was cruise control from that point on for an on-point Crusaders team.

St. Raymond would not quit or go away as they did get the deficit down to as little as 16 in the fourth quarter, but even with Gary Grant '20 putting together a solid second half it was just too little too late as LuHi couldn't be stopped.

Mostafa had 18 points, Traore had 13 points and 8 rebounds, while Curbelo had 8 points, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds in what was a near flawless effort from Long Island Lutheran in what would be a 69-52 title game victory over St. Raymond.

For the Ravens they got 16 points from Grant, 11 of which came in the second half as he showed flashes of the dynamic threat on the wing that he most definitely can be.

What might be the scariest thing about this two-day championship winning performance from Long Island Lutheran is that if you believe most of their players, they say that the Crusaders aren't really playing all that good of basketball yet, a bad thought for the competition ahead the rest of the season.

The Crusaders will now head to North Carolina to play in the Hoodie's House National Hoops Classic starting on Thursday where they will get a taste of some national competition with Curbelo hoping to make another statement and show another part of the country just what Long Island Lutheran can bring to the table.

"I'm really excited," Curbelo said about the upcoming trip to North Carolina. "It's always good to leave town to compare our talent against other talent so I'm excited and looking forward to it."

Curtis Heaves Past Archbishop Stepinac, 72 - 69

The Slam Dunk Tournament Consolation Game featured a pair of teams looking to jump start their seasons, and while the Crusaders will leave with more questions than answers after now falling to 1-6 on the year, it's the Warriors who will take a load of confidence and momentum with them going into 2019.

A.J. Griffin '21 tied the game up for Stepinac at 69 with just under 4 seconds left in regulation putting back am Ed Minaya '19 miss and the game looked like it was bound for overtime, but Adeleye Oyekanmi '19 off the ensuing inbounds would take three dribbles and throw up a buzzer beating heave that would bank in from well past half court to shock Stepinac and send Curtis back home to Staten Island with the thrilling 72-69 win.

If anything before his game winner Oyekanmi was most worried that he was going to be the reason his Warriors team was going to lose as with Curtis up 69-67 with 12 seconds to play he missed the front end of a one and one. Griffin came down and tied the game up so with him not wanting to let his team down, Oyekanmi said he just hoped at that point something good would happen.

"There was like two seconds left and we inbounded the ball quickly," Oyekanmi said after the win. "I heard someone on the Stepinac sideline say leave him alone, so I knew I was going to get an open shot, it was just a matter of a getting a good look and letting it go in time."

Even after it left his hand Oyekanmi said he was thinking overtime was soon to come, admitting shock that the extra session wasn't going to be needed.

"Honestly I was thinking ok we are going to overtime but then it banked in and I was like wow, we won," Oyekanmi admitted with a laugh.

His teammates rushed to mob him on the court, while Curtis head coach Dwayne Archbold ran on the court as well in jubilation understanding that this wasn't just a consolation game win, it was a win over the defending CHSAA and NYS Class AA Federation Champions that can help them build momentum after a struggle to the start of the 2018-2019 season.

The Warriors already have 2 losses in the PSAL Staten Island Division and 5 losses overall and Archbold said he could not remember the last time a Curtis team has had that distinction happen to them this early in the season, but with a win like this in the fashion they won it in, the hero Oyekanmi says it can help propel this Warriors team to bigger things from here on out.

"We have lost a bunch of close games lately but beating this team and getting this win, hopefully it's the start of something special," Oyekanmi said.