They had no D-1 prospects, no appearances in NY area measuring stick tournaments and not much hype or hoopla away from Long Island.
Let's not forget that their starting point guard -and best defender- Tajric Boggs was standing center-court during warm-ups riling up his teammates on crutches. But for about 28 minutes, the Longwood Lions had the Rivals.com #34 nationally-ranked, star-studded and high profile Half Hollow Hills West Colts fighting for their lives.
"The emotion of not having Boggs had those guys fired up", said Hills West Head Coach Bill Mitaritonna. "But they kept it going until the third quarter." The Lions and the Colts slugged it out Ali-Frazier style in a finals game that will go down as one of Long Island's greatest, and Longwood were a hair follicle away from clipping down New York's #1 team in an NCAA Final Four atmosphere. But big time players change games, and the Colts' reliance on theirs as time wound down earned them a 77-69 win and their second Suffolk 'AA' title in three years.
"This feels great", said small forward Emile Blackman with tears in his eyes after the game. "I can't even explain it, that's how great it feels."
With the deafening levels of cheering and jeering of a Duke-UNC game, an abundance of trash talk between Tobias Harris and Longwood center Patrick Piasecki and a packed to the brim, standing room only crowd, both teams came out fully caffeinated to compliment the atmosphere. High-flying guard Tavon Sledge picked up his open floor whirlwind act from where he left off in the semi-finals, but Longwood didn't show an iota of fear. Stocky guard Gerald Holmes (10 points) boldly came out and put the Lions on the board with a three, and their energy level never wavered. The senior guard tandem of Darien Davis and Paris Parks dazzled the crowd with a prime time display of crafty crossovers, fade-away jumpers and tear drops, and by mid-quarter, Hills West were in the midst of a missed lay-up party. With the Longwood crowd baiting Tobias with taunts of "He's soft!", the Tennessee-bound senior responded on defense by batting shots out of the air (complete with the Dikembe Mutombo finger wag). This would clearly not be just another Suffolk County final, and when Davis scored at the first quarter buzzer, Longwood were only down a free throw, 16-15.
"We really wanted to do it for Tajric", said Davis. "Everyone doubted us because we didn't have him, we were pumped." Longwood kept burrowing into Hills West in the second quarter, thanks to a deep rotation and even the 5'8 Holmes pulling down rebounds. Not to mention, with Harris, Sledge and Emile Blackman all racking up their second fouls in the second quarter, the jet quick and crafty Davis took the initiative to attack the Colts' defense. But even when Davis picked up his second foul, Parks and the 6'6 Piasecki (12 points) had a field day with screen and rolls, and their second hook up of the quarter gave Longwood a 37-34 lead. Offensively, Sledge's speed in the open floor and ability to knife through the defense kept Hills close by, but the tension mounted when Parks took a charge on Tobias to give him his third personal with 1:17 left in the half. The plot thickened, and Longwood was on top at halftime, 39-36.
"16 more minutes boys, we got this", said Holmes in the lay-up line at halftime. He and his teammates honored the thought in the third quarter, whether it was Davis' pair of killer triples -the second of which put Longwood up, 51-48- or Holmes' commitment to defense. Despite the fact that the foul-ridden Harris had about a foot on him, Holmes chased him around, and Harris appeared tentative in the third quarter. With 2:49 left, Holmes sacrificed his body on a charge to send Harris to the pine with his fourth foul, and the Hills West crowd dropped their volume quite a few decibels. A hoop from Blake Evans gave Longwood a 53-48 lead, their largest of the game, but the Colts still hung around thanks to some toughness in the paint from Blackman throughout the quarter.
Nonetheless, it was still 53-50 in Longwood's favor at the start of the fourth, but the re-inserted Tobias began to disregard his foul woes and attack on offense. The fact that he did is what kept Longwood within reach.
"In the first half they played help defense on me in the post, so that wasn't working out", said Tobias. "But late in the game it opened up for me with Tavon getting in the lane." Some defense also helps.
"I told the guys, 'when we get stops, we get baskets", said Coach Mitaritonna. "Once we were able to get those stops, we were able to get the ball in to Tobias on the other end." But the Lions kept plugging away. Holmes' fearlessness had him going at Blackman and nailing a big three to put Longwood up, 61-57. Piasecki's post move on Tobias moments later put the Lions up two, 65-63, but with only a few minutes left in the game, an alarm went off for the Colts. "Tobias promised me before the game that he was going to take care of business tonight. "What can I do? I have to trust him, he's clearly the best player in New York, I don't care what anyone says. He refuses to lose." If Tobias' big time trey that put the Colts up for good (66-65) with 3:31 left wasn't the biggest shot of the game, his younger brother's was.
"Coach told me 'keep on shooting, keep on shooting", said Tyler Harris, who struggled offensively at points early in the game. "I knew it was going to fall down, and when they (ran the play for me), I just let it go like any other shot." But it wasn't any other shot. Tyler's corner triple with 2:00 left put the Colts up 69-65, and with Longwood coming up blank on the other end, it was the shot that tamed the Lions for good.
"Everybody doubted us because we didn't have Tajric (Boggs)", said Davis, who led Longwood with 22 points. "We did our thing and held it down for three quarters, but Tyler Harris hit that three and it killed us". Despite an abysmal 6-13 showing from the line in the fourth quarter, Tobias and Hills West held on in the bonus with time running down and won the war. Long Island's game of the year rose far beyond expectations and proved to be just as exciting as Hills West's measuring stick games against NYC powerhouses Bishop Loughlin and Christ the King. But this time it was do or die, and Hills West came out of a dogfight to play another day.
"Longwood are a great team, they're definitely one of the best teams we've played all year", said Tobias, who scored 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. "You can only give them credit, they fought hard 'til the end."
Tavon Sledge's game high 24 points led Half Hollow Hills West. Emile Blackman added 15 points and Tyler Harris, 12.
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