ALBANY, NY - The first half of the New York State Federation "AA" semi-final between Boys & Girls and St. Raymond was close throughout the whole 16 minutes.
The Ravens jumped out to a 9 point lead in the first quarter, but Boys was able to come back and were only down a point going into the half.
Halfway through the third quarter, it was more of the same. The Ravens took a 38-36 lead after Nkereuwem Okoro scored on a lay-up.
That was when Boys head coach Ruth Lovelace changed her mind and decided to put junior guard Courtney Darnley in the game. Darnley wasn't supposed to play because he broke a team rule. It turned out to be the right thing to do because the 5-10 guard promptly knocked down two threes, from both the left and right corner, to give his team the lead and much needed momentum. That momentum carried the PSAL city champs to an impressive 66-54 win over St. Ray's.
Darnley hit his first three from the left corner to give Boys the lead at 39-38. Leroy "Truck" Fludd followed that with an inside move to give the Kangaroos a 3 point lead. After senior forward Daniel Dingle (17 points and 12 boards) split a pair of free throws for St. Ray's and the Ravens traveled twice on different possessions, Solomon knocked down his second three of the game to make the score 44-39. That shot was just the shot in arm the Kangaroos needed to propel them the rest of the way.
An intentional foul on a dunk attempt by Fludd gave the Kangaroos the ball ahead 51-41 with 5:19 left in the game, but St. Ray's made another last ditch effort to get back in it by scoring 6 straight points, the last two coming on a goal tend. A missed dunk and a big block by Dingle gave the Ravens some confidence, but Boys was able to stifle them with four quick points by junior guard Wesley Myers.
Darnley wasn't finished making big plays for the Kangaroos. With Boys ahead 55-49, Fludd went to the line to shoot a one and one. He made the first but missed the second. That was when Darnley jumped into the lane and was able to come up with the missed free throw. He turned around and went straight to the basket for the field goal and the foul. After a timeout, Solomon made the free throw to put Boys up 10 with 2:13 left.
Darnley wasn't supposed to be anywhere near the court when the game started. He was originally going to be on the bench in street clothes but Lovelace changed her mind because it was near the end of the season. Darnley actually broke curfew by stepping outside of his room Friday night. He paid for it by running the whole time Boys went through their morning shoot-around. After he finished running, he had to do 200 push-ups and crab walk. Basically, he didn't even shoot the ball at shoot-around.
Why did Lovelace put Solomon into the game?
"He's a great shooter, he's a shooter under pressure and they were playing zone and it seemed like we just needed somebody to make a shot" Lovelace said after the game.
Myers scored 14 points and also made big baskets in the second half to help Boys get the victory. He said everybody on the team calls Darnley "I-O", which is short for "instant offense". Myers said that's what he does, he comes in the game and shoots the ball with confidence.
"Confident, that's what he do, that's nothing new" Myers said. "Once he gets in he's confident. There is no doubt once the ball touches his hand he's shooting," Myers said.
Fludd, who didn't shoot the ball well but still finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds, said that Darnley did in the game what he's been doing all year long.
"When we need a 3 pointer, Courtney comes in the game. For Love to put him in I was surprised she put him in because she told us in practice she wasn't going to play him. She surprised us," Fludd said.
He was asked why he thought she played him anyway.
"We needed shots. We needed a score" Fludd said.
Darnley didn't think he was going to play at all. He scored all 14 of his points 10 second half minutes. When Lovelace called his name, what was he thinking?
"I ran to the table," Darnley said.
It was a good thing for Boys that Lovelace changed her mind. Sometimes the game is played like chess. She thought about it and knew that Solomon might provide some much needed shooting since nobody else seemed able to knock one down.
Now they get to face Mt. Vernon Sunday afternoon for the State title. Lovelace has coached Boys & Girls to three city titles, but never a state title. Maybe somebody else needs to break a team rule.
Shane Rector scored 17 for St. Rays, while Okoro chipped in with 11 points.