ALBANY, NY - Sunday's championship game between the Mt. Vernon Knights (23-5) and the Christ the King Royals (22-7) would turn out to be a game about execution and lack thereof.
Both teams stepped up big throughout the match, so much so, that the game could not be decided in regulation. The overtime would belong to the Knights who took it up a notch to beat CTK in overtime, 84-78, winning their first Federation Class 'AA' championship since 2006.
In the opening quarter, it seemed as if the Royals were in a flow. Exploiting their height advantage, 6'8" Chris Ortiz scored 9 of his 14 points in the first quarter, scoring frequently inside, even hitting a 3-ball, giving Christ the King a 20-11 going into the second quarter.
The Knights continued to apply defensive pressure on the Royals as Jabarie Hinds began to find his range. Christ the King PG Corey Edwards would get his pocket picked by Joshua Doughty for a score. That plus uncharacteristic Royals turnovers resulted in a 10-2 Knights' run that cut CTK's lead to a point with 4:31 left in the half.
Timely buckets by T.J. Curry (12 points) would fend off the Knights mounting pressure as Khalid Samuels drained three of his 21 points. An Ortiz dunk along with an and-1 by Omar Calhoun would keep the Royals ahead 33-28 at the midway point.
Mt. Vernon is a team that prides themselves on their defensive handy work. That work began to wear on the Royals the same way as they wore on Boys & Girls HS the day before in the semifinals.
The Royals tried to extend their lead as Calhoun and Edwards became assertive offensively. As a result, CTK would manage to increase their lead to 6 points but with 4:18 left in the third, a basket by Horace Copeland, a steal by Isaiah Cousins (12 points) and a feed to Samuels would knot the game for the first time at 41 apiece.
The Royals escaped the third quarter with a 48-43 lead as Calhoun managed to draw fouls on the Knights and get to the line. Another trey by Samuels had the Knights were once again knocking at the door for the lead. Hinds would soon open the door and walk through with back-to-back buckets.
A trey by Edwards would regain the lead for CTK but poor free-throw shooting allowed a three-ball by Cousins once again give Mt. Vernon a 1 point advantage with 57.7 seconds left to play. Calhoun would save the day with a clutch trifecta with 19.1 seconds and Hinds and Jamell Walker would miss a jumper and a putback on the offensive rebound, sending the game into OT tied at 66 apiece.
The Royals were on their heels throughout the fourth quarter but in OT, Christ the King became exposed. The Knights would quickly go on a 6-0 run while the Royals stumbled at the free-throw line. The Royals scoring also suffered under the Knights defensive pressure.
Shooting 58.3% in the first half, the Royals shooting dropped to 37.5% in the second half and only 18.2% in OT. This compared to the Knights who shot 46% in the second half and 67.6% in OT created quicksand for the team from Middle Village, NY.
Hinds overall performance would make up for missing the potential game winning jumpshot at the end of regulation. Scoring 20 of his game high 31 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, CTK would eventually be forced to foul. The Knights were crisp from the charity stripe shooting 10 of 12 squashing all hopes of a Royals repeat.
Hinds said that his team is built around their defense as well as attacking on offense. "I came in with a different attitude in the overtime. More aggressive; we attacked [because] it looked like Christ the King was worn out."
A dejected Edwards took the loss personally. "We didn't make plays. I blame the loss on myself," said he said. The George Mason bound point guard, who scored 14 points, credited the Knights 1-2-2 defense for getting under his skin. "We went over that in practice but you can't simulate the way they came after us," he said.
Calhoun scored a game high 33 points but shot 2 for 10 from 3-point range and said was he also disappointed with how he and his team played. "We had opportunities that we didn't take advantage of. They came out strong in the overtime and we didn't," he said.
"You can't miss free-throws in the overtime, bottom-line; especially against them," said CTK Coach Joe Arbitello. Throughout the game, Christ the King would miss 13 free-throws and end up committing 22 turnovers. "We did everything but put the ball in the basket," said Arbitello.
Hinds, who's heading off to West Virginia with five career Sectional titles in his trophy case, was hoisted in the air by his teammates after the win. "I couldn't ask for much more; winning the States and the Feds in my senior year," he said.