BAYSIDE, NY - It is said that patience is a virtue. This is even more poignant when referring to high school basketball when quite often players are anxious to get up and down the court and score loads and loads of buckets.
Thursday's Queens semifinal Borough playoff game between Bayside and Long Island City was a case in point as L.I.C. lulled the Commodores to sleep. Bayside would wake up just in time to lose, 59-55 to the Bulldogs.
"Patience. Slow. Move the ball," were the instructions that L.I.C. head coach Harley Watstein yelled to his team as they took to the court to start the game.
Milking the clock at every opportunity, the Bulldogs looked to keep the Commodores at bay with a methodical half court game.
Bayside would leak out in front for an occasional one or two point lead but turnovers impatience would set them back. Surprisingly, the taller Commodores were outrebounded by a scrappy L.I.C. team that valued hustle-points with Arthur Santanna (11 points) and Kevin Green (10 points) setting the tone.
"The key to our team is defense, defense, defense. We always emphasize that in practice," said Sadji Camara (14 points). "We also hit our foul shots pretty good."
That defensive mindset would result in a 16-14 halftime advantage for the L.I.C. that more closely resembled a first quarter score.
Bayside head coach Cory Semper paced the hallway of his school during the half, clearly concerned. "We gotta move the ball and pick up the pace," he said.
Bayside was without the services of their key player Austin Williams, who was out due to a knee injury but the Bulldogs was also without their big man who had food poisoning.
The Commodores, remained close due to sparse baskets by their bigs 6'7" Uzonna Akazi (12 points) and 6'6" junior Jamal Roseburgh (7 points). That is until a trey by Xavier Jones (18 points) early in the third quarter set off a 15-2 L.I.C. run that left the Commodores down by 11.
Brandon King (12 points) briefly plugged the Bayside leak with a nice drive down the lane but transition baskets by Santanna off Bayside turnovers pushed the Bulldogs' lead to 38-23 to start the fourth.
Bayside had no answers as the Bulldogs kept the game at the slow pace while capitalizing on Bayside's increasing desperation.
"I wanted to keep it close in the fourth quarter," said Coach Watstein. "I felt if it were a close game we could execute some plays."
Coach Watstein got his wish and then some as with 6:36 left to play the Bulldogs had amassed a seemingly insurmountable 21 point lead.
But while patience is a virtue, there's also another saying; Pressure bursts pipes. As the end of the game drew closer, seconds seemed like hours and the anxiety of getting to that finish line turned the tables.
Suddenly, the hunter became the hunted and the lead hunter for Bayside was the smallest player on the court, 5'6" PG Cantrell Barker.
"Our kids ran out of gas," said Coach Watstein and Bayside began to pounce on their prey.
Barker, an underutilized one man band, became adept at not only draining the long-ball but penetrating the Bulldog's zone and getting to the foul line. In the span of 5 minutes, the guard's 14 points (all in the fourth quarter) spearheaded a monumental comeback that reduced L.I.C.'s double-digit lead to a mere 4 points with a 1:12 left to play.
The Bulldogs tried to stay calm and take time off the clock as the home crowd urged Bayside on. Five seconds remained and the Commodores had the ball due to a turnover. Down by three, Barker would catch the ball in the right corner and drawback for a trifecta. The senior would drain the basket for the tie as the crowd went bananas but Barker would unfortunately step on the out-of-bounds line behind him prior to the shot.
Time would expire as a livid Coach Semper protested the call to the referees as the crowd booed a good call.
The win was big for the Bulldogs, a squad with a self professed chip on their shoulder. Although the team was undefeated (14-0) throughout the regular season and have now advanced to the championship round they summarily dismissed as only a single "A" team.
"That's what I hear all the time," said Santanna. "[The] double A is great. [The]single A is weak. So we came in here trying to prove something and I think we did."
Next up for the Queens/PSAL Class 'A' Bulldogs is the championship round against the Cardozo Judges on Saturday at York College (5:00pm) The Judges took down Campus Magnet, 65-52 but Camara had warning for Dozo. "They better watch out. Don't sleep on us. We can beat anybody."
Coach Watstein agrees. "We're the cardiac kids. We don't have the biggest guys or the best guys but we play with a lot of heart."
In other PSAL Boro semifinal action:
In the Bronx Borough semifinals Wings advanced to the chip defeating Mott Haven, 98-76. Justin Jenkins led the way with 28 points with Steven Gomez and Jaequan Brown adding 24 and 21 respectively. In the championship, Wings Academy will face J.F.K who beat DeWitt Clinton, 78-60. Terry Larrier and Muhammed Ahmed led the way for the Knights with 12 points apiece. Alfonso Davis contributed 11 points. Game time and place. 11am at York College.
Manhattan's Borough Championship will be between the Wadleigh Tigers and Manhattan Center Rams. In the semis Manhattan Center topped HS health profession/human services, 66-43 and Wadleigh took out HS Graphic Communication Arts, 78-62. Game time is 3pm at York College