ALBANY — It was a season of firsts for the Elmont boys basketball program. And despite the unsatisfying ending, 2015-16 will be a season that lasts.
The Spartans could not contain 6-8 junior Hameir Wright, who scored 28 points, and had their winning streak snapped at 14 games when they lost to Albany Academy, 67-51, on Saturday night in the state Federation Class A championship game at the Times Union Center.
“That number 44, he’s a serious player,” Elmont coach George Holub said of Wright, who is being hotly recruited by numerous high-end Division I colleges. “He was a matchup problem for us. We couldn’t handle him.”
Wright was an inside force in the first quarter, fueling a 14-0 run with a putback and lefty swoop to the hoop that put the Cadets ahead 18-6.
But the Spartans (24-4) had a solid second quarter, and with Yasir Lawrence scoring seven of his nine points, they cut a 10-point deficit to 26-25 at halftime.
Elmont took its first lead on a jumper by Travis Robinson-Morgan (15 points) on the first possession of the second half, and all-tournament selection Jalen Burgess (19 points) scored on a nice reverse for a 29-27 lead with 6:06 left in the third quarter.
But Elmont never led again. From that moment on, everything went Wright for Albany Academy (18-4). He sank consecutive three-pointers from the right wing and added two free throws for a personal 8-0 run and a 35-29 Albany Academy lead.
Wright drained another three-pointer late in the third quarter and beat the buzzer with a layup after making a steal as Albany Academy went ahead 46-34.
“I thought we had some momentum when we took the lead,” Holub said. “But this was the toughest team we played all year. They were really good. We usually have the mismatches inside, but did you see them? They were 6-8, 6-6, 6-5. They were tougher and they wanted it more.”
The Cadets built a 50-39 lead, thanks to six straight points from Sal Arena (14 points), but back-to-back three-pointers by Burgess and Robinson-Morgan brought Elmont within 52-46 with 4:36 left.
Then Albany Academy scored the next eight points to take a 60-46 lead with 3:24 left, and the Spartans had run out of runs. “They hit shots from outside, and that opened it up in the middle,” Holub said.
Albany Academy outrebounded Elmont 37-18, a huge margin that offset the Cadets’ 18 turnovers, a product of the relentless defensive pressure that has been the signature of Elmont’s historic season. The Spartans finished with 15 steals.
Elmont’s effort, as much as its unprecedented success, likely was the reason the affable Holub choked up moments after the game. Asked to put the season in perspective, he fought back tears and, with difficulty, said as his voice dropped noticeably, “They’re the best. That’s it. Nothing else.”