LAS VEGAS, NV - Saturday's Fab 48's first round Invitational division 17U playoffs pit two New York powers against each other.
With tournament advancement and local bragging rights on the line, The City would be the team to rise to occasion, crushing New Heights, 70-45.
"Our strategy was to be involved in every single possession whether it's offense or defense," said Arjay Perovic who coached The City. "We knew that they had a couple of guys that could play. We heard that that Mustapha Heron [wasn't playing] but we were prepared if they brought an army."
Dupree McBrayer (9 points) scored early for New Heights and it seems like he was going to have his trademark high scoring game but Donovan Mitchell (13 points) countered with his attacking style. New Heights still appeared to have the upper hand until 6'9" Kevin Marfo (14 points) who played strong in the paint, tied the game at 17. With 9:31 the City extended that lead as Elijah Davis (11 points) scored from afar.
"Elijah has been one of our biggest threats all year long," said Perovic. "He's carried us for most of the season when Donovan has been away at school."
Davis continue to bruise New Heights offensively and with 6:06, head coach Moe Hicks called a time out, down 31-21 at the 6:06 mark in the first half.
Coach Perovic also spoke highly of Marfo and his rebounding and defensive prowess. "Marfo's a beast. He's been dominating the boards. He's been active and hungry to get better and has a very bright future."
Terry Harris (10 points) ended New Heights' drought but Marfo continued to be a presence down low and made the going tough. The City's lead grew to 11 but PG Desure Buie (10 points) helped knock it down to 6 pts with 44 seconds left.
New Heights would take a 39-33 deficit into the second half.
Harris cut the lead to three points with a jumper but Mitchell again countered as he powered his way to the rim. New Heights only trailed by five but a dramatic putback dunk by Mitchell with 12 minutes left to play continued to give the city the momentum and a 47-40 lead.
With McBrayer only scoring one point in the second half, Harris kept the game close in the second half, scoring outside. Point guard Wolfgang Novogratz (12 points) balanced the floor well, keeping the City ahead, 49-42 with 8:43 left to play.
Buckets by 6'6" rising senior McKay LeDuke (10 points) and defensive stops increased the City lead to 58-42 w/6:19. With about 6 minutes remaining, McBrayer finally got his first 2nd half minutes but couldn't find his rhythm.
Down 64-44 with 3:20 left to play, desperation set in for NH and a dunk by Pierfrancesco Oliva (5 points) exacerbated the situation. The lead ballooned to twenty-five with under two minutes left in regulation and the refs enacted the mercy rule and ended the contest.
Coach Perovic said this was a statement game. "We actually felt like we've been getting dissed [by New Heights]. It's like they don't respect The City as much as they respect other programs."
Perovic added the victory was bigger than just New York vs. New York. "We came here to win. Not just this game but the whole tournament."