In the end, zero added up to one — victory, that is.
Remarkably, though the participants didn’t realize it, Elmont held Harborfields scoreless in the fourth quarter and pulled away for a 41-32 victory Sunday in the state Class A regional final/Long Island Championship before a crowd of more than 2,700 at LIU Post.
“I didn’t know,” said Elmont’s 6-3 senior wing Jalen Burgess, who scored 16 points, including a huge top-of-the-key three-pointer that gave the Spartans a 39-32 lead with 3:45 left.
“I had no idea,” Elmont coach George Holub said. “But it’s a testament to these kids. We preach defense and some days it works out. We play a zone but we match up so well that it looks like a man-to-man.”
And now the Spartans are in a zone they’ve never been in before. In improving to 21-3, they advance to the state Class A semifinals at Glens Falls Saturday at 10:45 a.m. against Byram Hills (Armonk). “It’s the first LIC for Elmont,” Holub said, proudly. “This is great for our community, who have been coming out to see us game after game. I love the support we’ve been getting.”
Mostly, though, Holub loves the basketball his team has been playing in this historic run. Though points were at a premium, solid defense, relentless hustle and neck-turning ball movement were in large supply by both teams.
Harborfields (19-5), which got 10 first-half points from Rob Pecorelli, led 32-29 after a backdoor layup by a cutting Nick Mitchell off a nice feed from Danny Morgan. There was 3:25 remaining in the third quarter. Who knew those would be the last points the Tornadoes would score as Elmont closed out the game on a 12-0 run.
“We needed to step up to stop their outside shots. We communicated and tried to match up,” Holub said. “Whatever it takes to win a championship.”
Travis Robinson-Morgan scored in traffic after an offensive rebound to give the Spartans a 34-32 lead after three. Early in the fourth, Victor Olawoye made a steal under the basket and converted the layup, then Burgess, after several quick passes, got open for his third three-pointer and a seven-point lead. Given the state of Harborfields’ offense at that point, Burgess shot was a dagger.
It more than atoned for him missing two free throws with zeros on the clock that allowed Harborfields to win the regular-season meeting, 61-60, in the Nassau-Suffolk Challenge on Jan. 16.
“I knew I had to play a big game today. I was very motivated,” Burgess said.
This time a zero brought a huge smile.