The Great Neck North boys basketball team found itself in a staring contest with calamity on Wednesday. The Blazers refused to blink first.
Great Neck North never trailed through three quarters-plus of the Nassau A-II showdown until the Spartans’ withering second-half press finally took its toll. Elmont’s Osagie Ekhator delivered a three-point play with 2:44 left in the game and the Blazers found themselves in real trouble, down by three. They were not deterred.
The Blazers dug deep, put in all the effort plays that makes for winning teams and closed the game on an 8-2 run for a 58-55 victory on the first-of-its-kind “Hawaiian Night” in North’s Big Gym. Fans donned Hawaiian leis and floral print shirts.
Luke Cronin found Doron Sedaghat for a three-pointer and a short-lived 55-53 Blazers’ lead, Eitan Zargari made one of two free throws to break a tie at 55 and the Great Neck North defense didn’t allow a point on Elmont’s last four possessions as it bid the Spartans “Aloha.”
In the teams’ first meeting this season, the Spartans won by 20.
“There was so much heart and so much grit in this win,” said the 6-7 senior Cronin, who finished with 19 points, 18 rebounds and four assists. “This team wants to go places and this was the most important game we’ve played. We showed that we don’t rattle.”
“This team has so much composure that, when it’s on the line, we still believe we’ll pull it out,” Sedaghat said.
Added Zargari: “Winning this game sent a message about who we are and how tough we can be.”
Sedaghat had 10 points, Coby Kalimian had nine points and Zargari had five points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals for North (10-4, 4-3). Cassius Moore score 19 points and Ekhator and Joshua Phifer each added 11 points for Elmont (10-5, 4-3). Both teams are battling for postseason berths against South Side, Sewanhaka and Garden City in Nassau’s most competitive division.
“You play in this division and you’re battle-tested,” Blazers coach Kevin Graham said. “You saw that tonight.”
“It’s like this every night and you can’t wait until the second half to bring it like we did tonight,” Spartans coach Ryan Staub said. “In the end, they out-toughed us and outhustled us.”
The late-game effort plays included Zargari getting an offensive rebound and a steal of an Elmont defensive rebound to maintain possession, a Sedaghat offensive rebound and a bold Cronin drive to the rim.
Minutes after the game, Cronin glanced at the still-illuminated scoreboard and thought back to his freshman season on varsity.
“I remember we lost to [Elmont] by 40 on senior night my first season and I wanted to win this game so bad,” the George Washington commit said. “That was a time when other teams thought they’d come in here and steamroll us. We had no respect at all back then. This [program] has come a long way.”