The Playoff Begin at iS8/Nike

SOUTH JAMAICA, N.Y. -- It's that time again.
The iS8/Nike Spring High School Classic is winding down, as squads battled on the hardwood of Intermediate School 8 (Queens, N.Y.) to advance in the one-and-done playoffs. On Saturday, the first and second rounds of the tournament playoffs took place.
Because of the increasingly higher concentration of better teams, the first round action was quickly supplanted by second round robustness.
Let's take a look at the second round matchups.
After Jersey City Boys Club (JCBC) rolled through their first round opponent, Team Price presented a much different problem for the squad.
Composed of sophomore up-and-coming talent, JCBC is primarily noted for its tough play on the inside as well as its arsenal of outside shooters. However, the New York-based Team Price clamped down on Jersey City Boys Club's driving guards and defended the perimeter tightly. The squad even featured Fairfield-commit, 6-foot-9, 250-pound Ami Lakoju (St. Luke School (N.Y.) '14) in the frontcourt.
Team Price's Tarik Allicock (Grand Street Campus (N.Y.) '14) got the ball rolling, aiding his squad to as much as a 12-point advantage, 28-16, with about two minutes left in the second quarter. Lakoju, who seemingly had his way in the paint in both points and boards, was difficult to match up against since JCBC did not have any legitimate bigs on the floor.
Team Price led 29-20 at halftime.
Although Team Price was able to maintain a three-possession lead early in the third quarter, Jersey City Boys Club's scoring guard, 6-foot-2 Ryan Gaynor (Whippany Park (N.J.) '16) began his usual clutch, 3-point shooting, bringing JCBC to tie at 36.
Since Team Price couldn't slow down Gaynor's perimeter percolation, the squad attacked more from the inside to get high-percentage looks at the basket to better match JCBC's efficiency.
Team Price's Jerry Mejia (H.S. for Language and Diplomacy/Washington Irving Educational Campus (N.Y.) '14) lit up, frequently stealing the ball in transition, fearlessly penetrating and scoring against contact with much control.
As a result of the forced Jersey City Boys Club turnovers, Team Price earned a seven-point advantage, 50-43, as late as the 3:06 mark of the fourth phase. As JCBC watched the game slowly slip away, the team tightened up on its ball handling under ball pressure.
JCBC's Stephen Ferraro (Seton Hall Prep (N.Y.) '16), who was instrumental in the first round victory, put some buckets down, including an artful kiss off the glass that brought his squad within four, 53-49. A confident 3-pointer from teammate Idris Joyner (St. Anthony's (N.Y.) '16) put Jersey City Boys Club only one point away from the competition, 53-52, with just 17 seconds left.
JCBC was forced to foul with 11 seconds on the game clock, sending Team Price to the line. The charity stripe trip yielded only one additional point to the Team Price point total, making the score 54-52.
An attempt at the basket by Ferraro was unsuccessful, which forced JCBC to foul again. And, again, Team Price went 1-of-2 from the line. On JCBC's next possession, Ferraro was able to cunningly draw the foul at the 3-point line with two seconds left in the contest. However, Ferraro made just 1-of-3 at the free throw line (intentionally missing the last to have an attempt at a two-point field goal, but the squad was whistled for a lane violation).
Team Price's Mejia finished with a game-high 21 points, while Allicock had 14 points. Lakoju recorded several rebounds to go along with eight points. Meanwhile, Jersey City Boys Club's Gaynor posted 11 points (all in the third quarter) and Ferraro scored 10.
Both The "Maine" Attraction and 2GZ Entertainment-Steph were good examples of teamwork and ball movement. However, only one thing separated the squads. Evidently, The "Maine" Attraction, coached by Dwayne 'Tiny' Morton, as a whole, displayed a more talented and deep skill set.
Early in the first half, The "Maine" Attraction gained an eight-point lead, 20-12. Behind the efforts of Seton Hall-bound, 6-foot-5 Desi Rodriguez (Abraham Lincoln H.S. (N.Y.) '14), that lead was reached again in spite of 2GZ Ent.'s small 7-3 spurt by regaining the eight-point margin, 27-19.
A 3-pointer by Seton Hall-bound Isaiah Whitehead (Abraham Lincoln H.S. (N.Y.) '14) lifted the squad to a four-point advantage, 34-30.
With a lot of help from 2GZ Entertainment's Dupree McBrayer (The Patrick School (NJ) '14), Charles Wingate (Hoosac (N.Y.) 15) and Unique McLean (Hoosac (N.Y.) '16), the matchup was knotted at 34 late in the second quarter. Still, after more contributions from Whitehead and future Seton Hall teammate Khadeen Carrington (Bishop Loughlin (N.Y.) '14), the eight-point margin resurfaced -- this time when the score was 44-36.
With about two minutes on the clock, a baseline drive and dish by 2GZ' Will Valdez (Patterson Eastside (N.Y.) '14) to McBrayer set off a small offensive run, which also included a trey from Valdez, that sliced the deficit in half, 44-40.
By the break, The Maine Attraction was ahead by four points, 46-42.
For much of the tertiary period, 2GZ did not do well maintaining its momentum and fell into the slow, gritty, physical game that The Maine Attraction enforced on the matchup. The lead grew to 11 points, 59-48, before McLean answered with three consecutive buckets -- the second following a sweet behind-the-back pass from McBrayer.
This sequence chopped the deficit to five points, 59-54.
Later in the third quarter, 2GZ was able to come within a deuce, 68-66. However, that would be the closest margin that the team would be able to acquire as The "Maine" Attraction went on a damaging run -- spearheaded by Elijah Davis -- that lasted for the duration of the third period and into the final phase.
In the fourth quarter, The "Maine" Attraction was able to lead 2GZ by as much as 18 points, 84-66.
The "Maine" Attraction was led in scoring by the 18 points of Rodriguez. Teammate Carrington finished with 16 points as Whitehead and Davis each had 11. Meanwhile, McBrayer posted a game-high 23 points. Teammate McLean added 18 points, while Wingate had 14.
Lehigh Valley Basketball Rankings (LVBR) had a good run through league play, earning a one-round bye and meeting its first opponent of the iS8 postseason in the second round.
However, LVBR's hopeful run was cut short, as 2GZ Entertainment-Will took a firm grasp of the one-and-done playoff matchup and pulled away.
Although 2GZ Ent. held an 11-point lead, 28-17, over Pennsylvania-based LVBR at the close of the first quarter, some on-court hustle by Eric Marbury (Pius X (Pa.) '15) and Manny Calloway (Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) '15) helped narrow the deficit.
In fact, the out-of-state squad was within two points, 28-26, early in the second phase.
Slowly, but surely, 2GZ Entertainment-Will crept ahead by eight points, 38-30, at the 2:11 mark of the period. Led by Omar Williams (Believe Prep (N.C.) '14), Nosike Obanya (Believe Prep (N.C.) '14) and Iowa-commit Dom Uhl (Point Pleasant Beach (N.J.) '14), 2GZ was leading the competition 41-34 at halftime.
In the third quarter, 2GZ had another duo get more heavily in the offensive action -- Darnell Holmes ('14) and Post University-bound Travis Flagg (Coastal Academy (N.J.) '14). On the defensive side of the ball, Homes and Flagg forced turnovers and capitalized on them in transition.
By the four-minute mark of the third, Uhl extended 2GZ' lead to 11 points again on a putback. LVBR's Zay Jennings (Allentown Central Catholic (Pa.) '16) stunted 2GZ surge with a basket, but Flagg quickly answered on the next two 2GZ possessions.
By the fourth quarter, a comeback seemed impossible given the large differential at that point of the game. It looked as if 2GZ wore out the young LVBR squad with its intense defense, steals and quick transition game. Once, in a fastbreak, 2GZ was hard to stop.
The 2GZ squad, ultimately, held as much as a 21-point lead, 87-66, late in the fourth phase.
Leading 2GZ Entertainment-Will was the 18 points of Obanya. Holmes and Flagg, who scored the majority of their points during the runaway run, netted 15 and 14 points, respectively. Teammate Williams had 13 points, while Uhl added nine. LVBR's Marbury posted a game-high 25 points (14 in the first half), while teammate Calloway contributed 18. Teammate Brendan Wagner (Allentown Central Catholic (Pa.) '14) added 11 points.
Jamaica Youth Organization (JYO) appeared to be out of sorts in the opening minutes of the first quarter, as the squad allowed the Brooklyn Ballers to lead 10-0. After a timeout, JYO, which consists of players from PSAL 'AA' champion Benjamin Cardozo H.S. (N.Y.), went on a run of its own to even out the score.
Still, Brooklyn Ballers surged ahead again -- this time 23-13 -- before JYO's Rashond Salnave ('16), Carl Balthazor ('14) and Eli McNeely ('16) began to chip away at the deficit. JYO noticeably took advantage of their on-court chemistry and quickness up and down the floor to steal the lead, 29-27, on a bucket by Armando Dunn ('15) off a feed from Salnave with 3:05 left in the second quarter.
JYO was able to extend its advantage to seven points, 40-33, by halftime following toughness baskets by McNeely, Tareq Coburn ('16) and Dunn.
With the game seemingly slipping from their fingers, the Brooklyn Ballers turned the heat up, making sure they did not go down without a fight. Brooklyn Ballers' Loyola-Md. commit Andre Walker (Christ the King H.S. (N.Y.) '14) went to work right away in the third quarter, ultimately, netting 10 points in the period alone en route to an 18-point finish.
As emotions ran high, physicality increased. However, the apparent no-calls on both ends of the floor seemed to promote the physical nature of the game. Even so, JYO's big man Balthazor stayed strong around the rim despite the frequent colliding of bodies.
By about the three-minute mark of the tertiary period, Brooklyn Ballers had regained the advantage, inching ahead by eight, 50-42. JYO stormed back. Soon, JYO's Coburn drew a foul, going 2-of-2 from the charity stripe, and knotted the contest at 52.
Brooklyn Ballers went ahead by one point before the close of the quarter, but into the fourth phase, by the 7:05 mark, JYO was back in front -- this time by three points, 55-52.
With under five minutes to play, a basket from both McNeely and Salnave gave JYO a six-point lead, 65-59. But, two free throws by Walker and a nervy 3-pointer by Mike 'Pop' Watson (Paul Robeson (N.Y.) '14) put Brooklyn Ballers ahead, 66-65, as late as the 1:14 mark of the fourth quarter.
JYO took the lead again and, on a shot by McNeely, the team was ahead by three points, 69-66. However, with 50 seconds left in regulation Brooklyn Ballers' Watson was fouled at the 3-point line and drained all three of his opportunities at the charity stripe. His nerves of steel at the stripe tied the matchup at 69.
In the final 20 seconds of regulation, Salnave dribbled out the clock until about the seven-second mark, but was unable to execute when the Brooklyn Ballers collapsed on him in the paint. This sent the march up into overtime.
With a fresh start and a tied game, the squads traded baskets until a bucket by Coburn and another deuce by JYO nudged them ahead, 75-71.
The game was delayed temporarily because Salnave cramped up on the court, but once the contest resumed, JYO played tight defense to prevent a Brooklyn Ballers mini-run in the final 1:55.
JYO's McNeely posted a game-high 25 points in the win, while Salnave had 18 points. Teammate Dunn recorded 13 points. Brooklyn Ballers' Walker scored a team-high 18 points, while Watson netted 17.
The semifinal and championship rounds of the iS8/Nike Spring High School Classic playoffs will be next Saturday, May 17, at Intermediate School #8.