Elmont celebrates after defeating West Genesee in the state Class AA...

Elmont celebrates after defeating West Genesee in the state Class AA boys basketball championship at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, New York, on March 16. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

The final seconds emptied off the clock inside the arena in Glens Falls and then the Elmont bench emptied as well. Coach Ryan Straub and his players ran out to join the five on the court, and they all met for jumps of joy.

The Spartans had just taken a 51-44 victory over West Genesee on this Saturday night in March, a night they will remember forever, the night they won a state championship in Class AA boys basketball, the program’s second state crown.

“It’s definitely the best way to go out,” said senior guard Cassius Moore, the MVP of the AA final four. “Knowing it was our last one playing together, we just wanted to have fun and get the win.”

They sure had fun, unlike the final game of the 2023 postseason.

The roots of this championship story stemmed back to that game on the last day of February. South Side had just taken a 49-35 victory in the Nassau Class A semifinals at Farmingdale State College.

It didn’t take Elmont long to start trying to improve.

“Right after we lost to South Side, we were in the gym the next day,” senior guard Gemere Frias-Walsh said. “We had that thought in our head of losing. We didn’t want to have that feeling again. We wanted to go out as champs. And we did. We got the big one.”

That’s why Osagie Ekhator could easily define the team’s special quality.

“What’s special is the dedication,” the senior forward said. “. . . We all had the one goal in mind and we all executed and we got to where we wanted.”

Straub could see their drive emerge from the ruins of that defeat, through the players wanting to get right back at it.

So the four-year leader of the program, who was an assistant coach in 2016 when Elmont was in Class A and won its other state title, said he knew this type of championship season “was possible from the beginning.”

“Our kids came back more hungry than ever after that loss in the postseason last year,” Straub said. “There was a truly hungry and just intense mentality every single time we were at workouts, in the weight room, watching film. Our kids are locked in, all about winning, all about doing what’s best for the team.”

Playing defense was what the team did best on its way to a 23-4 record. The roots of this championship story also stemmed to that end.

The Spartans yielded an average of only 43 points across their seven playoff games. The average was 41 over the state semifinal and the title round.

“Defense has been our identity all year,” Straub said.

Moore helped give them an identity on offense, too. He averaged 17.3 points and drained 67 threes. In the postseason, he averaged 19.4 with 17 makes from beyond the three-point arc.

“He’s been huge for us,” Straub said. “The whole defense locks in on him and he finds a way to play through it, whether it be scoring or creating for others. He’s always making plays for us.”

Elmont didn’t make enough plays at Roslyn on Jan. 18 and fell, 58-53. The Spartans never lost again, winning their final 12 games.

“Our group is so competitive that any loss really fires us up,” Straub said. “So that being the last one, that really got us locked in. We knew we wanted to take it one game at a time, win the conference, the county, Long Island and states.”

They survived a tough test against Half Hollow Hills East in the Long Island championship game/Southeast Regional final. The Spartans won, 53-51, on junior guard Arlyn Brown’s buzzer-beating jumper.

“We have a tremendous group of kids with amazing attitudes,” Straub said. “They are truly the best. The sky was the limit for them.”

And they ended up touching the sky.

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME