WHITE PLAINS, NY - There were a lot of questions going into Wednesday's game between the NYCHoops.net Westchester/Upstate #1 ranked team Mt. Vernon and #8 ranked White Plains. The Knights were coming off a 17 day break, so would rust be in play?
And the Tigers are unbeaten early in this season, and are thought to be the up and coming team who are looking to topple Section 1's presumed best. In the end it ended up being a gritty, hard fought game, that saw defense reign supreme as Mt. Vernon pulled away late for the 47-39 victory.
Knight's coach Bob Cimmino heard all about White Plains coming in. A dynamic freshman in Jordan Tucker, and an all league senior point guard in Mike DeMello, but it was the lay off that the coach heard most about, which is not what was on his mind.
"Someone actually came up to me before the game and said are you worried about the lay off? I looked at him and just said no, I'm worried about White Plains because they are good," Cimmino said.
He prepped his team to have to do all they could to stop DeMello, but 1:18 into the game that changed when he picked up his 2nd foul, forcing him to the bench for the rest of the game, which Cimmino said changed the complexion on the game.
"It became a strange game because both teams are practicing for the best players to be on the court, so it helped us a lot when he was relegated to the bench," Cimmino admitted.
While it helped them defensively, as Mt. Vernon stifled the Tigers in the backcourt, and they dominated the glass early on, the problem for the Knights was offensively, they were ice cold. They went on two stretches in the first half where they didn't score for over 3 minutes apiece, something that frustrated Mt. Vernon forward Brandon Martin.
"It was rough for periods out there, we came out real slow, and we didn't match our offensive intensity with our defensive," Martin said about the first half offensive struggles.
Chris Jordan awoke the White Plains offense late bit he first half when he nailed a three in left corner to make it 20-19, but a pair of baskets in the final 30 seconds by strong guard Akeem Krubally made it 24-19 at the half for the Knights, and Krubally's effort in the 2nd quarter after star guard Devonte Banner picked up 2 fouls of his own, was something Cimmino really felt was big for his group.
"You have to hope your team is battle tested, and when one guy goes out, the substitute is ready to step up, and Akeem did a great job there for us," Cimmino said.
The 3rd saw DeMello return to the game after sitting the majority of the 1st half, but the full unit in the game for White Plains was short lived. After pacing the Tigers with 7 points in the first half, Tucker was called for his 3rd foul early in the 3rd, and with 1:55 to go in the quarter, he picked up foul number 4, meaning once again, the Tigers were playing without their full main unit in the game.
While without their stars for long periods of the game, White Plains hung tough, and when Justin Tapper scored in a putback at the end off he 3rd, we were heading to the 4th tied at 31, something that severely displeased Cimmino on the Mt. Vernon sideline.
"I was getting aggravated that we weren't catching the ball deeper near our basket. I thought we were doing an ok job on defense, but the offense wasn't very good to White Plains credit, we needed someone to come through for us," Cimmino said about the situation going to the 4th.
That someone proved to be Martin. With the White Plains crowd fully into the low scoring slugfest at this point, Martin stepped up when his team needed him most. The 6'4" senior forward had 8 points and 8 rebounds in the 4th, as Mt. Vernon held White Plains scoreless the first 5:20 of the 4th, something Martin attributed to the teams desire.
"We wanted this one bad so we stepped up our pressure defense even more. We went to a 2-3 zone to try and rattle them, and coach kept us cool by reminding us to keep a cool head and play the way we can play," Martin said.
It wasn't like White Plains didn't have chances, because the offense of Mt. Vernon remained mainly stagnant, and with 1:22 it was still jus a 38-36 lead for the Knights, but a pass by Tucker who came back in with 3:45 to go led to a transition lay up for Judah Alexander, who was also fouled, in what was called an intentional foul. It really seemed to end the game there.
In the closing seconds Mt. Vernon took a lead as big as 9, but DeMello hit a three, but it was too little too late, as the Knights finished strong for the 47-39 victory.
Martin led all scorers with 15 points, while also corralling 14 rebounds for Mt. Vernon, while Alexander, another tough guy in the paint, added 9 points and 12 rebounds in the win.
No one for White Plains was in double figures as foul trouble, and missed opportunities cost them in the end. DeMello led the Tigers with 9 points, while Tapper and Jordan each chipped in with 8 a piece in defeat.
It's also great to best one of your main rivals like Mt. Vernon did on Wednesday, but Cimmino would rather forget this one and just be happy with the end result.
"We will take absolutely nothing from this one other than the W, it wasn't pretty, but it was a war, and it'll be another war the next 2 times we face them," Cimmino said after the win.
The two teams are only scheduled to face one more time this year though, unless they meet in the playoffs, which is exactly what the coach meant.
"They are very good and I fully expect to see them again in the playoffs."