GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — Elmont’s historic basketball season almost ended because of a tweet. No, not a social-media post, but rather the shrill sound of an inadvertent whistle that had the crowd and both teams twittering among themselves in the final seconds.
Elmont, clinging to a two-point lead with 3.8 seconds left, apparently had gained possession after Byram Hills guard Skylar Sinon deliberately missed the back end of a one-and-one and the ball caromed out of bounds off a Byram Hills player. But after the accidental toot, the ball was awarded to the Bobcats under their own basket because they had the possession arrow.
“I wasn’t sure what happened,” Elmont coach George Holub said. “But I thought, ‘Oh, baby! Now we’ve got to defend an inbounds play.’ ”
Sinon wound up with an open look from deep in the corner, but his hurried three-pointer was short, and the Spartans and their tenacious defensive wizards hung on for a 50-48 victory Saturday in their first trip to the state Class A semifinals at Glens Falls Civic Center. The Spartans (22-3) will face local favorite Troy in Sunday’s championship game at 1:30 p.m. Troy trounced Williamsville, 78-39, in the other semifinal.
“I’m not going to comment on that,” Holub said of the Bobcats’ late gift. “But when that shot went up, I just held my breath and prayed.”
It didn’t look as if Byram Hills (21-6) had a prayer when it fell behind by 15 points in the second quarter after Elmont built a surprising 18-5 lead in the first quarter.
“This is a big court and we came out tremendous,’’ Holub said, “but in the second half, our legs were shot. Our guys love to play in transition, but we had to go to the halfcourt.”
Still, no matter the hot-and- cold nature of Elmont’s offense, the defense always plays with the heat turned up to the highest setting.
“We have to defend,” Holub said. “In the end, defense wins championships because it frustrates the other team.”
The Spartans frustrated Byram Hills in many ways. Its guards, Yasir Lawrence (three), Travis Robinson-Morgan (two) and Victory Olawoye (two off the bench) totaled seven of the team’s 10 steals. Those turn- overs became transition points during Elmont’s early blitz.
And on those rare occasions when the Bobcats did get inside, Elmont had the stopper. Athletic 6-3 sophomore K.C. Ndefo blocked seven shots and snared 10 rebounds. Robinson-Morgan led the Spartans with 12 points, all in the first quarter, and Jalen Burgess added 11, including two free throws with 1:05 left that provided a 50-44 lead.
Ndefo proved he was more than a shot-blocker with a huge play late in the fourth quarter. With the Spartans clinging to a 46-44 lead, he anticipated an entry pass, stepped in for the steal, drove the length of the court, drew a shooting foul and sank both free throws. The Spartans made eight of nine from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
“I read the passer’s eye,” Ndefo said. “They had a good big man, but he couldn’t jump as high as me. I used my athleticism.”
Byram Hills’ 6-7 Matt Groll (12 points, 11 rebounds) was the victim of several Ndefo rejection notices. “That’s what he does,” Holub said of Ndefo. “Our guards get out and pressure the ball, and they know that K.C. is back there.”
Indeed, Ndefo has done this before. He blocked eight shots in a double-overtime win over South Side in the Nassau Class A final. “My guards know that if they do get beat,” Ndefo said, “I’ve got their backs.”
Hashtag block party.