As the postseason approaches, the battle for the top playoff seeding in the Nassau Class AA tournament is heating up. Baldwin isn’t taking its eyes off the prize.
The Bruins shrugged off a slow start Wednesday night and became an overpowering force in the second half, using their speed to wear down host Port Washington for a 63-46 Nassau AA-II victory.
It was conference-leading Baldwin’s second win of the season over the second-place Vikings and the Bruins (11-4, 7-0) remain one of only two Nassau AA teams not to have lost a conference game. Defending county champion Uniondale of Conference AA-I is the other.
“We have a series of goals but, yes, we want to be the No. 1 seed,” senior point guard Jayden McKenzie said. “We think we’re good enough to beat anyone in our [tournament] and we’re making our case.”
“There’s no question that with games like this the seedings are on the line, but indirectly,” Baldwin coach Darius Burton said. “Our first goal is to finish first in our division. It’s still too soon to talk about the playoffs.”
Baldwin has been plagued by slow starts in non-conference games and got off to another against Port Washington (11-4, 4-2). The Vikings were able to work inside out for some three-pointers en route to an early 12-4 lead. But McKenzie scored 10 of his game-high 14 points from that point to the half as the Bruins came on for a 25-19 lead at the break.
Out of halftime, Baldwin looked like a very different team. Burton adjusted the style of press. He also benched Lance Henry because he thought the senior guard, who was scoreless at the intermission, wasn’t playing aggressively enough.
The press started getting turnovers and then he re-inserted Henry and senior had four points in a 13-0 run for 41-24 lead when Joshua Minton made one of the two free throws with 12.2 seconds left in the third quarter. Henry stayed hot early in the fourth as the Bruins salted the win away.
“Our third quarters have been tremendous and it’s because this group has a good basketball IQ,” Burton said. “We give them adjustments and they soak it up like a sponge. . . . And when you have a leader like Jayden you play with heart that no one can teach.”
“It put a fire in me,” Henry said about being benched. “When I finally got back in, I was going to make plays. Coach Burton has a way of always figuring out how to get the best out of us.”
As the game wore on, the Vikings, who were led by Christian Schwirzbin's 13 points, started to wear out under the stress of the Bruins’ speed and depth. Three-point shots weren’t released fast enough and got blocked. Passes were less crisp and got picked off.
“What we do and the number of guys we bring at you, it takes a toll,” Burton said. “We want to take that toll in every game we play.”