MOUNT VERNON, NY - One of the last things that Wadleigh head coach Mike Crump did before he passed away suddenly last month was help set up a non-league matchup between Section 1 "AA" power Mt. Vernon, and PSAL "A" Division favorites W.H.E.E.L.S.
On Friday, the two teams met, and while the Wolves were able to keep the game close, they could never get over the hump as the Knights held on for the 60-50 victory.
Crump was on the minds of everyone at Mount Vernon on Friday. Assistant coach Pat Theodule, who spoke for head coach Bob Cimmino who was unavailable for comment after the game, spoke of how much Crump was loved by all.
"We all thought he was one of the best coaches in the city, and kept him in very high regard," Theodule said. "We would go to his place, and he would come to ours, so the relationship between Coach Cimmino and Coach Crump was very close, and it really hit us all hard when we heard we had passed away."
Crump helped put the game together, putting Cimmino in touch with W.H.E.E.L.S. coach Josh Krinsky, and before too long after their first discussion, the matchup was made.
While Mt. Vernon is widely considered year after year as one of the best New York State has to offer, W.H.E.E.L.S., and Krinsky went into the game without fear, believing in his team that they could make the trip to Westchester and do something big.
"We are at the point with a very veteran team that hopes to win some championships in the next few weeks, that we aren't going for moral victories, we come to win," Krinsky said.
The Wolves came out very strong as well, staying even with the Knights early in the first, but Devonte Banner gave Mt. Vernon their first lead late in the first, and a Judah Alexander dunk made it a 4 point game after 1.
W.H.E.E.L.S. was having to work hard on every possession, especially in the 2nd quarter where Mt. Vernon clamped down a lot, but Theodule explained that that is the way they play basketball, regardless of who they are playing, it's defense that rules.
"We contest shots in the lane, we are a tough hardnosed rebounding team, and against us you really have to scratch for points," Theodule said. "Even playing White Station of Tennessee in Hawaii, they only scored 55 points against us, and they are one of the best teams in the country."
The defense did make a major difference, as the Wolves were held to just 20 points at the half, and trailed Mt. Vernon 29-20 at the break, but Krinsky felt it was their own doing, more than the Knights defense that out them in the hole.
"We had a 3 on 1 fast break, and we turn in over and they score on the other end," Krinsky said. "We missed a couple lay ups as well. I mean, they turned their pressure up a bit, but to be honest it was us not executing," the coach added.
Emile Lewis got W.H.E.E.L.S. off to a quick start to open the 3rd with a long three from the wing, and Tyshawn Myles had a pair of dunks as well, and before you knew it, the Mt. Vernon lead was cut to 35-33 with 4:16 to go in the quarter.
Brandon Martin, who had 8 points in the opening half, hobbled off with an apparent injury, while left a glaring hole inside, but that hole ended up being filled admirably by Yhanni Bartley who scored 7 points late in the 3rd, as the Knights closed the quarter on a 10-0 run to grab a commanding 45-33 lead after 3.
Until that late run, it looked like the Wolves had grabbed control, and momentum, but Banner made sure to keep his teammates up, and not let the game get away from them.
"Basketball is a game of runs so we just needed to stay together and make sure everyone kept their heads up because we knew our time was going to come soon," Banner said.
Another W.H.E.E.L.S. run came early in the 4th though, as the Wolves scored the first 7 of the quartet to cut it to 5, but Alexander threw home a dunk over Myles, and then a drive by Jakeeme Sturgis for the Knights while he was fouled with 3:24 to go, upped the lead once again to 10 for Mt. Vernon, and seemed to be a dagger.
Jessy Jimenez, a freshman for W.H.E.E.L.S., who looks to be their next big star, knocked home a couple threes late, but Mt. Vernon was able to comfortably take home a 60-50 win.
Banner led the Knights with 11 points and 6 assists in the win, while Bartley and Martin added 9 and 8 points respectively in the victory.
Theodule, who admitted that the team didn't really know much about W.H.E.E.L.S. other that they were a PSAL team from Manhattan that was supposedly pretty good, was especially proud of the defense, focusing on the intensity that the team game from start to finish on that side of the ball.
"The heart and soul of this team is defense, and on the defensive end, no matter who we play we contest shots, because that's our personality and who we are, and that showed today," Theodule said.
W.H.E.E.L.S. ended up being paced for the 17 points of Lewis, while Myles added 12 in the defeat.
It was a tough loss, and one that Krinsky was disappointed in, because of how he felt the loss occurred.
"We had opportunities, and I think physically we matched up well with them, but we didn't play tough enough and didn't take advantage of our opportunities which was disappointing," Krinsky explained.
It's another win for the Knights though. The NYCHoops.net #1 team in the Westchester/Upstate rankings looks to be peaking at the right time, in February with the playoffs just around the corner, and playing a tough NYC team is something that Banner thinks with only help this team the rest of the way.
"It was a good win. They are from the city and we don't play teams like that often, teams that are gonna want to push the tempo," Banner said. "It definitely prepares us more for what we want to do come playoff time."