NEW YORK, NY - Championship Sunday from the 1st annual BKYSC Spring Invitational at Baruch College was everything anyone could have asked for.
Top quality competition, with high level talent all over the gym. It was a great day of action that culminated in a pair of champions. Here is a recap of the day's action from Manhattan.
The semifinals got started at just about 2pm, and while one semifinal was lopsided, the other was hotly contested that went right down to the wire.
The Juice All-Stars had there was for the most part in one semi against Team Underrated (Silver). They built a 22 point lead at the half, and did play much of Isaiah Whitehead (Lincoln '14). Underrated clawed back late when Juice played most of its bench, but it was a comfortable win, 65-53.
Whitehead had 20 in somewhat limited minutes, and Elisha Boone (Lincoln '14) added 17. Marshall Louis (Holy Cross '14) led Underrated with 16 in defeat.
The other semi pitted New Heights against the Brooklyn Badgers (Shawn). It was intense from start to finish, and even though both teams were missing pieces due to the is8 playoffs, it was still a high level game, with an extremely high level atmosphere and intensity.
New Heights took control early on behind the play of Larry Beckett (Satellite Academy '13). He would flash across the FT line and against the pressure defense of the Badgers, he would find open space, get the ball, turn around and knock down the midrange jumper time after time in the early going en route to 16 first half points.
Devyn Wilson (South Shore '14) was the main Badgers weapon in the first half, showing he is more than just a perimeter shooting threat, getting into the lane and finishing at the rim against some very big New Heights bodies. It looked like it would go to the half with New Heights up 6, but Matt Ryan (Iona Prep '15) nailed a big corner three before the buzzer to put New Heights up 48-39 at the break.
The Badgers came out strong to start the 2nd half and started to slowly chip away at the New Heights lead. Ryan Preston (South Shore '14) was strong on the board for a pair of put backs. Doudmy Saint Hilaire (South Shore '14) was aggressive getting the basket, and had quick hands defensively coming up with steals, and Donnell Clayton (South Shore '14) connected on back to back threes, and the New Heights lead was cut to just 67-66 with 6 minutes to play, but right then, New Heights took it to an extra gear.
Jordan Washington (Pathways '13) and Bashir Ahmed (JFK '13) were strong finishing going inside, with Washington proving to be borderline unstoppable during what turned out to be a 15-0 New Heights run that most thought ended the game, but with just over 3 minutes left, the Badgers weren't ago to quit.
Darius James (Bishop Loughlin '14) showed an offensive aggression he hadn't shown before in putting the ball on the floor and charging to the rim, and Wilson stepped up and hit a big three, and got fouled in the process of another, and believe it or not, with under a minute to go, the Brooklyn Badgers were within 2 at 86-83, and after Washington missed a pair of FT's, they had the ball in the closing seconds, and once again Wilson was fouled in the act of shooting a 3 with 4 seconds left. He hit the first, but missed the 2nd. He purposely missed the 3rd, but Ahmed got the rebound and dribbled the clock out, as New Heights won a hard fought battle, 86-84 over the Brooklyn Badgers.
Washington all scorers with 26 in the win for New Heights, while Beckett added 24. For the Badgers, they had 6 players in double digits led by Wilson's 14 points.
It would be a dream final. New Heights vs. Juice, and the game for the title completely lived up to the hype that surrounded it.
Early on it looked like Juice might pull away, and with its array of stars you would think one would dominate early on, but the one who dominated is a player who flies under the radar, Michael Vigilance (Lincoln '13). Going up against a fellow big body in Washington from New Heights, Vigilance more than held his own, he was light on his feet, showed good moves in the paint and had 8 points in the opening minutes as Juice took an early 21-12 lead.
It grew to as much as 10 on a Whitehead three, but New Heights started there rally at that point, and behind the athleticism of Ahmed, and the long distance shooting of Lamel Faison (Xaverian '13), who connected on back to back threes late in the half, New Heights was actually able to claw back and take a 33-32 lead in the closing seconds, but Elijah Davis (Lincoln '14) slashed his way down the left side of the floor for a bucket late to give Juice a 34-33 lead at the break,
All the attention was on Whitehead to do something big to start the 2nd half, but again it was the play of Vigilance who finished on a beautiful baseline lay in, and then back to back put backs to see Juice go back up 10 at 58-48. Chris Robinson (Cardinal Hayes '14), who missed the semifinal, came on strong soon after for New Heights going on a personal 7-0 run to draw them right back in the game once again. The crowd was completely surrounding the court in anticipation of the closing minutes and what would bring.
It was 63-59 Juice with 3:25 remaining and Juice was getting a little stagnant offensively, but to the rescue came Whitehead buried a clutch three from the left wing to open the lead back to 7. Both teams traded FT's, but a big call was made with 2:28 to go when down 67-61, Washington was called for a charge in the paint in a call that could've gone either way. The Juice response to that was another critical Whitehead 3, this one from the corner, as he again stepped up in the crucial moments, and with under 2 to go, that gave Juice a 9 point lead and sealed the game for all intensive purposes.
New Heights tried to get back closer with the long ball, but Robinson, Ryan, and Glenn Sanabria (St. Peter's '14) each went cold at the absolute worst time, and when the final buzzer sounded Juice were crowned 17u champions taking the title 72-63 over New Heights.
Vigilance led all scorers for Juice with a huge 18 points in the win, with Whitehead and Davis each adding 14 a piece. Washington paced New Heights in the loss with 21, and Ahmed continued to show he is a big time player by putting in 16 of his own.
The 16u semis ended up both being interesting close contests with Juice 15's taking down the NY Lightning 15's in unique fashion in one semi, and in the other the NY Panthers stormed back from being down by as much as 12 to take down the NY Lightning 16's behind the 33 points of future star Temple Gibbs (Seton Hall Prep, NJ '16).
The championship was set with the Juice 15 youngsters taking on the Panthers 16's for the crown.
To get it started it wasn't so much Gibbs who was doing the damage for the Panthers, but backcourt mate Gianni Ford (Boys and Girls '16). He connected on a three off the glass, and also went coast to coast off a steal to help the Panthers build a 20-13 lead.
Shamorie Ponds (Thomas Jefferson '16) kept Juice in the game with 3 threes in the opening half, along with the solid play on the front court of Damarri Moore (Lincoln '16). The problem for Juice was the increasing ball pressure by the Panthers seemed to slow them down, and Gibbs got hot with 3 minutes to go in the half. Juice was in it though, even though younger they were within 28-25 of the Panthers at the break.
With the Juice 17 team fresh off its championship win, and cheering on the future Juice stars, Curtis Smith (Thomas Jefferson '16) hit a three, and it seemed the Panthers were on the ropes, but Med Fofana (Hudson Catholic, NJ '14) did a nice job attacking the basket in transition, and Quentin Bush (Baldwin '15) was a force in the paint as they helped the Panthers start to wear down Juice midway through the 2nd half. Gibbs and Ford were also really harassing the ball, and the aggressiveness seemed to rattle the young Juice guards a bit into bad passes which in turn led to easy Panther buckets.
The Panthers just had too much firepower late as they were able to pull away in the end and take down Juice 51-40 to be crowned 16u champions.
In the game Gibbs led all scorers with 15 points, while Ford and Fofana added 14 and 11 respectively. Ponds ended up with 4 threes for Juice and led them with 14 points in the game, while Smith, his Jefferson backcourt mate chipped in 12.