One thing is constant about Elmont boys basketball: Junior guards Isiah Barnes and Jevon Santos create chaos.
Barnes scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half and Santos scored 13 points and made seven assists as the tandem headed a devastating full-court press to spur Elmont past Manhasset, 61-57, in a Thursday matchup between the top two teams in Nassau A-II.
The Spartans relied on their greatest asset as the game crept towards crunch time: pressure defense.
When Elmont’s Jaiyetoro Gordon-Younge made the second of two free throws for a 43-43 tie with six minutes left, the Spartans set up their 2-1-2 full-court press.
Santos made a steal at half court and found Gordon-Younge for a layup to take the lead. Elmont (11-0) got a stop on the next possession and Santos found himself at the line, making the second of two free throws. Barnes forced a steal and converted an easy layup on the next possession, and Guy Louis added two free throws after another defensive stop before Barnes would score again in transition to give Elmont a 52-46 lead with 4:30 left.
“We just spread them out and started to operate,” Barnes said. “We knew if we could speed them up then they would be more turnover prone. That’s what we do.”
Manhasset (10-3) pulled within three at 55-52 with 1:45 left after Louis Perfetto slipped through for a layup. But Santos was quick to respond. He drove left into the lane and spun right, drawing Manhasset help and dropping it off to Gordon-Younge for a layup. Elmont came up with a stop on the next possession and Santos made two free throws for a 59-52 lead.
“Anyone who has seen us knows that we will go to the press to create some turnovers and gain momentum,” Elmont coach George Holub said. “They were getting comfortable in man (on man) so we had to switch it up.”
Elmont went on a 23-7 run to start the game and led 23-11 after the first quarter, and for a moment Manhasset seemed simply outmatched to hang with the fast-paced Spartans. But Holub knew the lead could be short-lived.
“Manhasset is too good for a blowout, they run their stuff tightly and it’s really hard to guard,” Holub said. “We lost our footing and started to take crazier shots, and we had to settle ourselves back down.”
Manhasset battled back and trailed 31-28 at halftime. Midway through the third quarter, Manhasset’s Thomas Santella scored back-to-back baskets and Perfetto nailed a three to give Manhasset its first lead of the game at 38-36.
For coach Holub, it’s all about timing. Elmont can’t sustain full-court pressing on every possession, so it’s about picking the right time and trusting his players to execute. And it helps to have players like Santos and Barnes that feed off each other.
“They might not have the greatest stature [both are listed at a 5-10],” Holub said. “But they are heady. And the biggest part of their game is defense. They never get tired and have unlimited energy.”