ST. ALBANS, N.Y. -- It was the game to end the season: the time for players to leave it all on the floor and for teams to move as a unit.
It was the time for locally known student-athletes to forget egos, be as unknown as the blank space above the number on their jerseys and merge their skill and talents with that of their respective teammates.
Players on both Positive Direction (N.Y.) and NYC Finest (N.Y.) did just that, making for a highly competitive and physical matchup in the championship game of the More Than a Game Invitational on Friday.
With a standing-room-only crowd, the park lights illuminated the asphalt basketball courts of St. Albans Park, located at the corner of Merrick Blvd. and Sayres Ave. Positive Direction and NYC Finest battled to the wire but, when the dust settled, Positive Direction emerged from the game as the 2014 MTG champion with a 78-76 victory over NYC Finest.
The win gave Positive Direction their second consecutive chip in the Invitational.
The pendulum did not swing that far in either direction as the teams constantly fell into knotted scores. NYC Finest guard Jaquan McKennon ('15) stroked a deuce and 3- pointer by the 11:37 mark of the first half, giving his team a four-point advantage, 14-10.
Positive Direction point guard Dimitri Joseph (Westhampton (N.Y.) '15) answered with a basket, but NYC Finest knocked down another trey to extend its lead to five points, 17-12. And, because of the level of competition, a five-point cushion proved to be a sturdy barrier for some time.
Still, Positive Direction attempted to breach the barrier, cutting their deficit to three points, 21-18.
However, showing off a strong skill set at different spots on the court and on both ends of the floor, Hamidou Diallo (Putnam Science (Conn.) '17) -- with great usage of a screen by teammate, 6-foot-8 big man Mamadou Diarra (Putnam Science (Conn.) '15) -- attacked the basket with 6:25 left in the stanza to put NYC Finest's advantage back at five, 23-18.
NYC Finest extended that lead to as much as six points, 25-19.
McKennon drew contact, secured a field goal and completed the conventional three-point play to maintain NYC Finest's six-point advantage, 28-22, moments later.
Positive Direction's Justin Wright-Foreman (H.S. of Construction (N.Y.) '15) and Ramel Powers (Campus Magnet (N.Y.) '15) aided with their team's offensive grind, helping to prevent NYC Finest from going on a substantial run with a solid balance between fundamental and dynamic plays.
As a result of Positive Direction's collective, intense, swarming defense that produced NYC Finest turnovers and empty possessions, Positive Direction went on its own mini-surge. Ultimately, with 2:30 left before halftime, Positive Direction took a one-point lead, 33-32, on back-to-back plays by Joseph.
That lead was short-lived as Diallo, who posted 21 of his 23 points in the first half, helped his team tie the contest up until the 10-second mark, where a dunk at the hands of Diarra gave NYC Finest a two-point lead by halftime, 39-37.
Positive Direction and NYC Finest showed no signs of fatigue in the second stanza despite the heavy slugging in the first half.
Although Positive Direction would regain the advantage, NYC Finest's McKennon knotted the matchup at 45 and, later, a trick shot by a teammate stretched out the lead to six, 51-45, with about 13 minutes remaining in the contest.
Ultimately, Positive Direction's Aaron Clark (Law Enforcement (N.Y.) '15) tied it up at 51, while teammate Foreman toed the line and made two free throws. And, although Diarra would tie the game at 57 after a putback off a missed free throw by Diallo, Positive Direction would take a four-point lead, 63-59, by the 6:15 mark of the second half.
The matchup would be knotted three more times before the final four minutes, where Positive Direction would take the lead for good. Thanks, in large part to Powers and Wright-Foreman, Positive Direction held another five-point advantage, 77-72, with less than 25 seconds left in the game.
A 1-of-2 performance by McKennon and a set play drawn up in the huddle slashed the deficit to just two points, 77-75.
With seven seconds remaining, Joseph fouled NYC Finest's Anthony Brown (John Bowne (N.Y.) '16). Thinking that he was shooting a 1-and-1, Brown purposefully missed the first free throw, while teammate Diarra dunked it. However, the shot was waved off by referees because NYC Finest was in the double bonus. Brown netted the second free throw opportunity coming within a point of the competition. 77-76.
With four seconds on the clock, Positive Direction's Foreman was fouled, and hit 1-of-2 of his free throws. In the few moments remaining, NYC Finest had to dribble the ball fullcourt and get a shot off to tie or win. The ball found McKennon's hands, but his long-range attempt missed the well.
Positive Direction's Powers posted a team-high 24 points, 14 in the second half. Wright-Foreman netted 23 points, 12 in the second half. Teammates Clark and Joseph added eight and six points, respectively. Meanwhile, McKennon recorded a game-high 28 points, 17 in the second half. Teammates Diallo and Diarra finished with 23 and 14 points, respectively.
Powers' consistent performance earned him the MVP award of the More Than a Game Invitational championship.