Atkinson leads Lutheran to state Fed final

Long Island Lutheran's Chris Atkinson drives up court

Long Island Lutheran's Chris Atkinson drives up court during against Brooklyn Collegiate during the Federation tournament in Albany. (March 23, 2012) Photo Credit: Pat Orr Photography

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ALBANY -- The lead was built on power. It was preserved with finesse.

Long Island Lutheran exploited a height advantage to take a 21-point third-quarter lead before watching it shrivel to five early in the fourth quarter.

That's when Brandon Alford cut down the middle, took a nice feed from Anthony Pate and finished with a floater.

Two minutes later, with the lead back down to six, Chris Atkinson slithered between two defenders, hung in the air and rattled home an acrobatic shot.

The Crusaders weren't seriously threatened again and advanced to the state Federation Class A final for the fourth time in five years with a 66-56 victory over Brooklyn Collegiate on Friday night at Times Union Center.

Lutheran (22-6) will face Harborfields for the Federation championship at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

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"Of course I was worried. We had a bunch of guys with three or four fouls," Lutheran coach John Buck said of the fourth quarter, when center Kentan Facey was playing with four fouls and power forward Ryan DeNicola and freshman point guard Atkinson had three each. "That's why Brandon's curl was such a great play."

Atkinson, who began the season on the junior varsity, has emerged as the team's floor general despite being the youngest player. He had eight points and eight assists, two of the spectacular variety. Atkinson lofted a perfect alley-oop pass to Facey for a crowd-pleasing slam in the third quarter and found K.J. Lee all alone with a slick no-look pass later in the period.

"He doesn't play like a freshman. He's been one of the key players on this team," said DeNicola, who scored a team-high 15 points, including his fourth putback of the third quarter to give Lutheran a 49-28 lead with 3:14 left. "I thought we had a mismatch inside with me and Kentan. They collapsed on me, but we were able to take advantage."

Facey had 12 points and 11 rebounds. Alford hit three three-pointers in the first quarter and totaled 13 points.

But Brooklyn Collegiate (16-3), the PSAL Class A champ, rallied behind Ervin Mitchell (18 points) to make it scary in the fourth quarter.

Atkinson ran the point smartly late as Lutheran pulled away with six straight points -- a putback by DeNicola and a breakaway layup and pull-up jumper by Pate. "In key spots, my teammates put the ball in my hands," Atkinson said. "I don't even think about pressure. I just take over my team."

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