It was David versus Goliath on Friday as L.I. Lutheran went up against the bigger Jamesville-DeWitt Red Rams.
Chopping down the tree that is 6'10" DaJuan Coleman would be a monumental tasks but the Crusaders were up to it. In a total team effort, LuHi would take down Red Rams, 75-71, to advance to the NYS Federation Class 'A' championship round.
"We prepared really well for it. They just willed themselves to win," said an emotional head coach John Buck. The plan, according to Buck, was to front Coleman and offer weak side help if J-D lobbed the ball in to the center.
In the first quarter, LuHi gained the upper hand with an up-tempo pace. 6'3" sophomore guard K.J. Lee would put the Crusaders on the scoreboard first with a midrange shot but 6'2" junior Pete Drescher would respond for the Red Rams.
Jordan Allen started out playing aggressively in the paint and a foul on 6'4" senior Shaun Lawton as he was attempting the trey put Lutheran up 7-2. That lead would be short lived as 6'10" Coleman began to do work in the post, tying the game at 7 with a rim rattling dunk. 6'8" junior Tyler Cavanaugh then put Jamesville-DeWitt in front with 4 minutes left in the quarter. With 2:55 left in the quarter, J-D was still out in front but a strong finish by PG Mike Florin and Allen would give Lutheran a 15-12 advantage going into the second quarter.
In the second quarter, although Achraf Yacoubou came up with a big shot to tie the game at 17 with 5:18 left in the half, the Crusaders made a run led by 5'10" junior Brandon Alford, who also plays football for Lutheran. Coleman continued to be a handful as the Red Rams responded late in the half. A rim rocker by the imposing junior at the buzzer would cap off a 10-2 run giving Jamesville-DeWitt a 31-23 halftime lead.
Shooting only 24% in the first half and outrebounded 23 to 13, Coach Buck said he used the Arizona's recent upset over Duke as a motivational tool in the locker room at the half. "I told the guys, this is our game. This is the third quarter. We want it too much. We've been waiting too long to play it."
Buck said that he challenged his guys to stay in a man-to-man defense even though it flew in the face of conventional wisdom because he knew how tough his players were. Yacoubou defended the much bigger Coleman at times and sacrificed his offense as a result. "Ash isn't gonna get you the flashiest numbers but he will do whatever you ask him to do," said Buck.
Coach Buck would need Yacoubou to get hot from the perimeter and he did, tying the game at 46 with a minute left in the third and again at 48 as he and Coleman played point counterpoint. Coleman would manage to get the last bucket of the quarter.
Down 50-48 to start the final quarter, Yacoubou would once again tie the game 50 early in the quarter but this time would score off a J0-D turnover to give LuHi their first lead since the first quarter
6'8" Tyler Cavanaugh put up some key points in transition to delay the Crusaders surge. Point guard Mike Florin would spark things up for LuHi and good penetration and transition play by Shaun Lawton begin to extend the Crusaders lead. "We had a game plan and we executed it," said Lawton. "Coleman's a big dude. We knew if we ran the floor, he'd get winded quickly."
With 5:13 left to play, a 13-1 run put Coach Buck's team ahead 61-51
Jamesville-DeWitt tried to claw their way back but Alford came up big offensively in response to the Red Ram's volleys. Cavanaugh and Coleman would get the lead down to 4 points with 30 seconds remaining but Lawton clutch freethrows down the stretch sealed the deal.
"The tremendous heart that those guys played with. They really made me proud," said Buck.
Lawton would lead the Crusaders with 24 points followed by Yacoubou with 19 points and Alford with 13 points. Coleman scored a game high 29 points to go with 13 rebounds for Jamesville-DeWitt while Cavanaugh added 18 points.