SOUTH JAMAICA, N.Y. - It was most fitting for the contest with Shooting Stars and NIA Prep International to kick off Saturday's eight-game schedule at Intermediate School 8 in Jamaica, N.Y.
The New York-New Jersey matchup set the tone for the rest of the day, proving that the time for some serious, blood-pumping, crowd-hyping action at the iS8/Nike Spring High School Classic is now underway.
Because of NIA Prep's tardiness, the out-of-state squad was rewarded with a 16-point deficit at the start of the game. Shooting Stars, sitting on a substantial double-digit cushion, did what it could to maintain that deficit and cruise to an easy victory. However, despite having the tall task of digging itself out of a hole, NIA Prep staged an exciting comeback and, ultimately, took the 'W' in overtime, 73-65.
Because of the dogfight of both squads, NIA Prep was able to cut Shooting Stars' lead down to 11 points, 29-18, at the break. But, after a halftime speech about rebounding by NIA Prep International head coach Rudy King, the squad was revitalized and brought its collective A-game. Using the third quarter as a springboard, NIA Prep soon surged ahead within five points, 41-36, by the close of the period on a strong dunk by Shaquille Thomas (19 points), who elevated way above the rim to throw down the emphatic two-hander.
Although he was making contributions throughout the game thus far, the fourth quarter belonged to NIA Prep's Kelvin Amayo. The dynamic guard showed himself to be tough on defense - picking a few pockets - and offensively relentless in the halfcourt and in transition, using his vertical to cash in on a few high-octane dunks. Amayo netted 12 points in the fourth quarter alone, en route to a game-high, 29-point performance.
Shooting Stars were no match for the 180-degree change in NIA Prep's intensity. The New Jersey squad lit the coals under the feet of the New York squad as the former controlled the momentum of the game. This only worsened the case for Shooting Stars, who could no longer contain the NIA runaway train.
Thanks, in large part, to the intense play of Amayo, which only seemed to increase over time, as well as the rebounding and point contributions of Thomas, NIA Prep International capped a 14-0 surge that lasted from the end of the third quarter to the opening minutes of the fourth. The unanswered shooting spree gave NIA Prep a three-point advantage, 44-41.
Still, Kareem Meminger's Shooting Stars were not going to go down without a fight.
On a two-of-two performance at the charity stripe by Shooting Stars' Kevin Marmolejos (11 points), the squad had regained the lead, 47-46. In fact, the Shooting Stars had raised its advantage to nine points, 55-46, again on a pair at the line by Marmolejos.
However, a great sequence by Amayo, which allowed him to record a block, a few points and an assist within about a minute, as well as some clutch free throws from Ryan Rhoomes, tied the contest at 55. And, with less than 30 seconds on the clock, Amayo completed the conventional three-point play and gave his NIA Prep squad a three-point lift, 58-55.
As time ticked down, Shooting Stars' Marmolejos drained a clutch, buzzer-beating trey to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, Amayo and Thomas came out of the gate with a cluster of buckets, pushing the Shooting Stars into a hole from which it would never recover. NIA Prep led by as much as eight points in the post-regulation period, while the Shooting Stars only came as close as five points down the stretch.
Shooting Stars' K.J. Lee and Azonna Akai recorded nine points a piece.