ST. ALBANS, N.Y. -- After weeks of squads attempting to seal strong records in the pool play portion of the More Than a Game Invitational, the tournament is presently in its final stage -- the playoffs.
The Invitational that has been widely received by the borough of Queens, as well as being noted for its ability to make such inroads in a small amount of time, has turned the asphalt of St. Albans Park at the corner of Merrick Blvd. and Sayres Ave. into an attraction for those seeking local basketball action in between post-AAU and the preseason.
'More Than a Game' directors chose to split up the quarterfinals, holding three contests on Monday and the remaining one matchup on Tuesday. Let's take a look at the three games on Monday, and the winners who advanced to the tourney's semifinal on Wednesday.
NYC FINEST (N.Y.) COMES BACK TO DEFEAT ST. FRANCIS PREP (N.Y.) IN O.T., 68-64
It was probably the most unlikely comeback of the night, as the first half of the contest seemed to be dominated by St. Francis Prep (N.Y.). It was more than the 10-point lead at the break that made it appear that the Terriers would earn the 'W,' it was also the veteran poise and steady ball movement that St. Francis Prep utilized.
The Terriers were propelled by the bold and tough plays of Jeriah Shambley ('15) and Connor Bacci ('15), who netted a combined 21 points in the first half. Meanwhile NYC Finest, which had all the tools to get the job done rather quickly, struggled to get its collective motor going. The squad acquired just as many offensive possessions as St. Francis Prep, but did not finish strongly at the rim.
Behind the massive all-around game of the sharpshooting Shane Herrity ('15), the Terriers capitalized on the empty possessions, earning as much as 15 points, 33-18, early in the second half. NYC Finest's Savion Morris (Thomas Jefferson (N.Y.) '15) attempted to get the rim rocking for his team with a lay-in, but St. Francis did not lift its foot off the gas.
It wasn't until the 4:48 mark of the second stanza that NYC Finest began clicking on both ends of the floor. On the completion of a conventional three-point play by Jaquan McKennon ('15), NYC Finest pulled within five points, 54-49, at the 3:54 mark of the stanza. Then, the squad chipped it down to three points, 54-51, with 3:29 left in regulation.
The game became knotted at 54 about two minutes later, and NYC Finest's big man Mamadou Diarra (Putnam Science (Conn.) '15) stroked two from the stripe to give his team is first advantage of the game, 56-54.
Herrity, soon after, tied the game at 56. And, in the ensuing final moments of regulation, St. Francis Prep and NYC Finest volleyed the lead. Free throws from Herrity with 24 seconds remaining would ultimately pave a path to the three-minute overtime.
Herrity came out hot, sinking a 3-pointer, but NYC Finest responded. Morris and McKennon pushed NYC Finest ahead by four, 67-63, with 27 seconds left in the matchup. St. Francis Prep was unable to find a way to surge past the competition in the final moments of the game.
NYC Finest's Diarra finished with 17 points, while McKennon and teammate Hamidou Diallo (Putnam Science (Conn.) '17) posted 14 and 13 points, respectively. Morris added six points. Meanwhile, St. Francis' Herrity led all scorers with 23 points. Teammates Bacci and Shambley recorded 17 and 12 points, respectively.
BENJAMIN CARDOZO (N.Y.) OUTMATCHES REDHAWKS (N.Y. ), 56-47
Although Benjamin Cardozo (N.Y.) seemed to score with relative ease, finding open spots and nailing them from multiple places on the floor, the Redhawks (N.Y.) earned all their buckets the hard way, getting off toughness baskets against hard, defensive matchups. However, whatever way the teams were able to put points on the board, they were able to keep the margin balanced in the first nine minutes of the game.
In fact, on the backs of Redhawks' Jonathan Maurice (Queens High School of Teaching (N.Y.) '15) and Eduardo Morgan (LIC) (N.Y.) '15), at the 11:12 mark of the first half, the Redhawks and the Judges were tied at 11.
Cardozo, the 2014 PSAL 'AA' championship team, worked well together in forcing turnovers, stealing near halfcourt, and capitalizing on the possessions in transition. Judges' Rashond Salnave ('16) had the hot hand, draining a scoop shot, 3-pointer, jumper and free throw that catapult his team ahead by 10 points, 23-13, with a little under eight minutes left in the stanza.
After that 10-point hole was dug, the Redhawks, which fought for every shot-attempt, still trailed, 36-23, by halftime.
In the second half, it was more of the same. The Redhawks cut their deficit down to eight points, 40-32, but the defense around the rim by Cardozo's Armando Dunn ('15) and buckets from floor general Elijah McNeely ('15) and Tareq Coburn ('16), made it difficult for the competition to entirely overcome the deficit.
The Judges led by as much as 15 points, 49-34, on a lay-up by Amir Tutt ('16). The Redhawks were able to only buzz the deficit to as low as seven points just before the close of the matchup.
Cardozo's Salnave posted a game-high 22 points, 18 in the first half. Teammates McNeely and Coburn scored 10 and eight, respectively. Meanwhile, Redhawks' Morgan had 10 points and Maurice added nine points.
POSITIVE DIRECTION (N.Y.) EDGES TEAM UNDERRATED (N.Y.) IN O.T., 73-68
Positive Direction (N.Y.) took an early 6-1 lead, but the marksmanship of Team Underrated's Charles Wingate
Posititve Direction's Wes Nelson (H.S. of Construction (N.Y.) '16) helped plug the leak with the completion of a three-point play, cutting the deficit to five points, 24-19. Although Team Underrated attempted to pull away, Positive Direction stayed right with them. Positive Direction came within an ace, 29-28.
Team Underrated led 33-32, by halftime.
In the second stanza, Wingate helped Team Underrated take another large step ahead, resulting in a seven-point advantage, 47-40. However, Positive Direction started tightening up the screws, tying the matchup at 50 after a nice feed from Ramel Powers (Campus Magnet (N.Y.) '15) at about the midway mark of the period.
While Powers and teammate Justin Wright-Foreman (H.S. of Construction (N.Y.) '15) led Positive Direction with their power plays, Wingate sustained his skill set to help Team Underrated. As a result, the pendulum did not swing that far in either direction, as the squads battled between small leads and ties for the duration of the regulation.
A knotted score of 60, on a free throw by Positive Direction's Nelson, sent the game into overtime.
Wingate wasted no time, sinking his teeth into a very deep 3-pointer. Positive Direction's Powers also sprang into action, surging with a one-man-show of baskets, pushing his team up by five points, 68-63. Overall, Positive Direction came out with an energy charge.
An and-1 by Foreman sealed the deal for Positive Direction, as the team outscored Team Underrated 11-4 during the three-minute overtime.
Positive Direction's Powers posted a game-high tie 26 points, while Foreman added 22 points. Teammate Nelson had 10 points in the win. Team Underrated's Wingate finished with a game-high tie 26 points, while teammate Akeem White (South Shore (N.Y.) '16) had 10 points and Khari Harvey (John Bowne (N.Y.) '15) added eight points.