It was not your average Brooklyn battle. This one meant so much more than a regular season meeting between the two squads.
On Sunday, long-time crosstown rivals NYCHoops No. 1 Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln, ranked No. 24 nationally in the RivalsHigh 100, and No. 2 Brooklyn (N.Y.) Boys & Girls, ranked No. 64 nationally, put on a show in the PSAL Boys 'AA' Championship game on the big stage at Madison Square Garden. However, the Boys & Girls Kangaroos (24-6) showed that they were the clear-cut winner, extending a four-point halftime lead to as much as a 12-point cushion with 25 seconds left in the game.
Boys & Girls' energized fan base - which seemed to vastly outweigh those of Lincoln's in the 5,000 attending - watched as its perennial powerhouse squad earned a second consecutive title, downing the Railsplitters (28-3) 62-55.
"I think the first one was more pressure, more of getting that monkey off your back, you finally had to get it done," said Boys & Girls head coach Ruth Lovelace. "I'm so glad that we were able to win it last year because I think, with this one, I was a little bit more calm. I told the guys during the pre-game talk that I really felt good about this one - just go out and do the things that we asked you to do, things you did all year to get us to this point and we should be fine."
Lincoln did not go down without a fight as it managed to chip away at an early nine-point deficit late in the first half. It seemed as if the game was over before it began when the Kangaroos led 27-18 with 1:32 remaining in the second quarter. But, some quick baskets off of missed attempts from Boys & Girls generated a stream of offense from the Railsplitters strong enough to climb within four points, 28-24, on a lay-in by senior Reuben King by halftime.
After ending the half on a 6-1 mini-surge, Lincoln inched within two points, 28-26, at the start of the third quarter when junior forward Kamari Murphy (15 points, 13 rebounds) grabbed an offensive board off an Isaiah Whitehead (team-high 18 points) missed jumper and scored on a putback down low.
It would have seemed that the Railsplitters found an answer to the puzzling equation of how to stop a surging Boys & Girls team, but the Kangaroos were already prepared to handle the advantage that Lincoln had down low in the long and strong Murphy.
Two words: Antione Slaughter.
"He is a very important key to us winning tonight," said Lovelace.
Although Slaughter was the smallest guy on the floor against a squad with an obvious size advantage, the dynamic point guard was the oil in the Boys & Girls machine. He was able to use his seemingly diminutive size to create some big plays, whether it was with an assist, a steal, a basket in transition or taking his taller opponent off the bounce to the rack. Slaughter, the game's Most Valuable Player, made the win possible on 6-of-14 from the field and 6-of-7 from the stripe for 19 points.
"That don't mean anything," said Slaughter of his smaller size on the court. "You always got to have heart. That's one thing I have."
The Kangaroos enforced a near-flawless defensive pressure that caused the Railsplitters to cough up the basketball 23 times as Boys & Girls picked Lincoln's pocket 16 times in the matchup. Even Lincoln's key offensive threat Shaquille Stokes was held to only nine points on 2-of-13 shooting, including 0-7 from downtown.
Though Lincoln was the clear winner in the paint, outrebounding Boys & Girls by a plus-5 margin (40-35) as well as outscoring its opponent in the paint 30-28, the Kangaroos had a quicker first step and a gritty way of attacking the glass that got them 27 points off turnovers and 33 opportunities at the charity stripe.
Boys & Girls held a 10-point advantage as late as the 6:49 mark of the fourth quarter when Slaughter nailed two free throws and made the score 47-37. Lincoln was not ready to lie down and with ample time on the clock, slowly but effectively narrowed the Kangaroos' margin to only three points, 51-48, on an offensive board and putback by Whitehead with 1:53 left in the fourth.
Still, refusing to allow the Railsplitters to disturb its momentum, Boys & Girls started back on its runaway train as Slaughter got it started for his squad once more taking his defender off the bounce from the wing and to the hole for an easy deuce.
After more contributions from junior forward Leroy Fludd (19 points and seven rebounds) and teammate senior guard Mike Taylor (14 points) at the line, the Kangaroos was looking at its second title - a championship that is extending the season of Boys & Girls' special group of seniors.
"I think this was the biggest championship for us because we won it last year and I didn't want to go into this season and go out and lose it," said Taylor. "This would have been my last game playing with my best friend - all these guys are like my brothers so this is real big."
"These guys just believed," Lovelace said. "They had a will to win all year long. It's all right to be confident, but this group was a little cocky. They would always tell me, 'Coach, you working too hard, don't worry we got this, we got this, we're seniors, we been there, we know what it takes, we've been through the wars, we're never going to say quit.'"
And, the Kangaroos never did quit, as they take home back-to-back PSAL titles for their coach and each other.
"Feels good to win the championship this year," said Slaughter. "We did it again . . . got another ring for my coach . . . felt good playing with my best friend, my other brothers from another mother. It just felt good."
The Kangaroos shot 32.7 percent (18-of-55), while the Railsplitters netted 40.8 percent (20-of-49).