When it was all over, Boys & Girls head coach Ruth Lovelace put her head down, welled up with tears and was embraced by one of her assistant coaches.
It looked like Boys & Girls were headed for another disappointing loss, reminiscent of the defeat to Abraham Lincoln High School at Madison Square Garden two post-seasons ago.
However, after a grind-it-out strong defensive effort in the third quarter of the PSAL Class 'AA' Championship game on Saturday, the Kangaroos showed that the time was now.
The Boys & Girls Kangaroos defeated the Benjamin Cardozo Judges at The Garden 55-50 and finally, after notching a historical and emotional victory, the chip trophy went home with the 'Roos for the first time in program history.
"It means everything" to do it in the memory of the late and former Boys & Girls' principal, Frank Mickens, said Lovelace, who is the first female coach to win a PSAL 'AA' Boys Basketball Championship. "This guy deserves all the credit. No one would've ever hired a female back at that time. I wish he was here to see this, but I know he does see it."
The Judges threw the book at the Kangaroos and led for the first 24 minutes of the contest. Boys & Girls even watched Cardozo mount its largest lead of the game, 28-17, at the 1:02 mark of the second quarter on Chris Gayot's sole field goal.
Despite trailing 28-18 at the game's midway mark, something ignited in the Brooklyn, N.Y. squad in the second half.
The Kangaroos perfectly pressed and trapped for the stretch of the third quarter to bring the contest within only a point, 34-33, at the 1:39 mark. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Boys & Girls' junior dynamic duo, 2-guard Mike Taylor and point guard Antoine Slaughter, capped the 15-6 run.
"I wasn't nervous. I just came out and played my game," said Slaughter, who ran the point for the first time at a PSAL championship game in his high school career. "I had a lot on my back. It's not off yet -- we got to go to [the] State's [championship] -- but I did it."
Slaughter finished with 12 points and four assists.
Cardozo fought to maintain its lead using the size advantage in the paint with Ryan Rhoomes. Rhoomes kept cleaning the glass like a window washer to gain opportunities for his teammates to stunt the growing momentum of the 'Roos. He finished with 14 points and a game-high 16 rebounds, grabbing eight-eight split in the offensive and defensive columns.
The effort helped Cardozo extend its lead to six points, 39-33, on a Rhoomes offensive board and putback with 38 seconds on the clock.
"It was a big advantage for us," said Rhoomes. "It was a great experience but, unfortunately, we didn't play hard enough. They came out hard at the end."
Not counting his team out and down by four, Boys & Girls' Taylor attacked the glass and Cardozo's guard Shelton Mickell stepped in front of him in an attempt to draw the charge. Instead, with 13.5 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Mickell (11 points) was called for the foul. On Taylor's made pair at the charity stripe, Boys & Girls managed to chip the deficit down again to a one-possession game by the close of the tertiary period, 39-37.
"My teammates helped me so much with the screens [and] helped me on defense," said Taylor. "Best point guard in the city right now, Antoine Slaughter, got me the ball - so I got to give my teammates some credit, too."
After not tying or leading in the contest for about 25 minutes of game play, the resurgent Boys & Girls squad created five knots down the wire of the fourth and final quarter. And, with seven minutes on the clock, the Kangaroos also took the lead for the first time, 41-39, on a midrange jumper by sophomore guard Jeff Neverson (nine points).
Following the fifth tie of the matchup, a few empty possessions and fouls by Cardozo allowed the Kangaroos to jump out to a lead of as much as four points, 53-49, at the 1:23 mark.
Cardozo's Reynaldo Walters (12 points and five assists) was only able to cut the deficit down to three points, 53-50, with 29 seconds remaining in regulation. However, in a necessity to stop the clock, with 18.4 seconds remaining in regulation, Taylor was fouled and chants of "You can't beat the High, said you can't beat the High," blasted from Boys & Girls side of the hardwood.
The 'Roos fan-base hushed as Taylor cashed in a deuce at the stripe and, ultimately, iced the game for the 'Roos.
"All season long they wanted to do it for me," said Lovelace. "Going into the playoffs these guys were so confident. These guys had patience -- a quiet confidence."
"We just figured we had to make our free throws and box out those two big kids, [and] we had this game in the bag," said Taylor.
It truly was Boys & Girls' ability to get to and convert at the free throw line (nailing 14-of-29 as opposed to the Judges' mere 2-of-6) and their intense defense (forcing 24 turnovers) that put the team over the top.
Taylor led all scorers with 25 points on 7-of-18 from the field, 3-of-6 from the arc and 8-of-13 from the line.
Though the Boys & Girls got the "W," Cardozo looked better on paper. The Kangaroos shot 34.6 percent (18-of-52) from field and 38.5 percent (5-of-13) from the arc, while the Judges finished 47.8 percent (22-of-46) from the field and 40 percent (4-of-10) from the perimeter. And, thanks to Rhoomes, the Queens, N.Y. squad even outrebounded its opponent 42-28.
But, despite not being able to make it count where it mattered down the stretch, Rhoomes is still content with the leaps and bounds his squad traveled this post-season.
"I can be happy with that," said Rhoomes of Cardozo making it this deep into the playoffs. "We haven't been here in a long time and it's my senior year. It helped us a lot with the whole experience."
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