Hills West falls in state AA semis, 69-65

Half Hollow Hills West's Chris Cox leaves it Half Hollow Hills West's Chris Cox leaves it all on the floor during their game with Mt. Vernon at the 2010-2011 NYS Boys Basketball Championships in Glens Falls. (March 19, 2011) Photo Credit: Pat Orr

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GLENS FALLS, N.Y. -- Heading into the home stretch, Half Hollow Hills West's Colts didn't have enough to keep up with Mount Vernon.

Despite having the game's top two scorers -- Emile Blackman (25) and Tavon Sledge (18) -- Hills West's season ended at the Glens Falls Civic Center for the second straight year as the Colts lost to Mount Vernon, 69-65, in the state Class AA semifinals Saturday afternoon.

Twelve players scored for Mount Vernon (20-5), led by Khalid Samuels (16). Randy Stephens had 12 and West Virginia-bound guard Jabarie Hinds, who sat out the entire second quarter with two fouls, had 10.

"I was just shocked at how many players came off the bench for them," said Sledge, who scored a Long Island championship game-record 46 points last Sunday against Elmont. "A lot of other kids that we didn't expect stepped up for them."

Isaiah Cousins hit two free throws with 3:10 left in the fourth quarter to give Mount Vernon the lead for good at 57-56. It was the start of a 10-1 run in a span of 2:06 that ensured the victory.

Blackman, who also had a game-high 11 rebounds, didn't believe the Colts (18-6) wore down against Mount Vernon's deep bench. "To me, it doesn't really matter ," the forward said. "It's still five guys on the court at the same time."

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At times it seemed as though Mount Vernon had more, with all the thievery it pulled off. Eleven of Hills West's 16 turnovers came off steals, including one off an inbounds pass that led to an easy bucket by Cousins, making it a five-point deficit with 1:58 to play.

That flurry came after a pair of missed three-pointers by Hills West (18-6). Long-range shooting was a problem for the Colts, who were 3-for-16 from downtown. One of the makes was Blackman's desperation heave at the buzzer.

Sledge shot only 1-for-7 from three-point range. That isn't the speedster's M.O., though; he's more of a slasher and distributor, as evidenced by his 12 points in the paint and 10 assists.

After Mount Vernon took its largest lead at 38-26 on Jamell Walker's hoop to open the third quarter, Sledge took over.

During a 10-0 run, he scored on a layup and assisted on three other baskets, including a two-handed dunk from Chris Cox (nine points) and an alley-oop to Blackman.

"In the first half, we weren't playing like Hills West," Sledge said. "We weren't scared, not one bit."

Added Hills West coach Bill Mitaritonna about his 5-8 point guard: "He's the best player in the state. I don't care what anyone else writes or says."

Hinds, co-winner of the title of the state's Mr. Basketball, had two step-back jumpers over Sledge on consecutive possessions to give the Knights a 55-53 lead. Chris Kaimis answered with a three-pointer from the right wing before Mount Vernon's 10-1 run.

Mitaritonna, whose team lost in the state final last season and who decided to leave coaching before changing his mind two months later, said after Saturday's game that he'll be back as the Colts' jockey next season.

"I thanked them for recruiting me to coach again,'' he said, "because this was so much fun."

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