At nine o’clock Saturday morning, in an empty gym at Baldwin High School, Elijah Bovell was shooting. This was two hours before Baldwin’s team walk-through and five hours before its game against unbeaten Harborfields. The session seemed to jump-start Bovell’s day.
The 6-2 wing scored 22 points, including nine during a key 13-0 run, as Baldwin defeated Harborfields, 49-42, in Game 3 of the Nassau-Suffolk Challenge at Elmont High School.
“He’s a senior, so I always tell him, if not now, when,” Baldwin coach Darius Burton said. “We used it as motivation that Harborfields was the only undefeated team left [on Long Island].”
Clearly, Bovell got the message. He dunked in transition to break a 16-all tie and followed with a pull-up jumper. He hit three free throws after being fouled on a downtown launch and added a putback as the Bruins scored 13 straight points for a 29-16 lead with 5:30 left in the second quarter.
Bovell’s driving scoop produced the game’s largest lead, 45-26, with 5:35 left in the fourth. But Harborfields (11-1) played Baldwin-style ball during a furious finish. The Tornadoes forced several turnovers with an all-court press and crashed the offensive boards to score 11 straight points, nine by Alex Merhige (15 points) to cut the deficit to 47-39 with a minute left. “We just don’t have the athletes to play that way for 32 minutes,” Harborfields coach John Tampori said.
Bovell ended the run with a one-handed tip-in that he surely didn’t practice during his morning shooting session, and the Bruins held on. Baldwin does have the athleticism and depth to apply constant fullcourt pressure and the Bruins also were dominant on the glass until late in the fourth quarter.
“Our press is the key to everything we do,” Bovell said. “They like to play a slow, halfcourt game and we like to run, so we tried to speed up the game and get it to our pace.”
The Tornadoes executed their halfcourt offense well for much of the first quarter, building an 11-3 lead. But they eventually wilted against Baldwin’s relentless pressure defense and offensive rebounding. “We’re not big, but we’re athletic,” Burton said.
Especially Bovell. “Things opened up for me and that opens it up for everyone else,” said Bovell, who has a greater role in the offense this season with the graduation of star Shane Gatling and the transfer of another All-Long Island talent, Jared Rhoden.
“I’m a big believer that individuals get better in the offseason and teams get better during the regular season,” Burton said. “Elijah improved so much from March to November, but I want him to be even more assertive.”
Bovell started asserting himself early Saturday, even before the game started.