BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — That’s the thing about history. The more you make, the more you want.
So even though the Half Hollow Hills East boys basketball team won the school’s first Long Island championship, earned its first trip to the state final four and earned an impressive semifinal victory on Saturday, the Thunderbirds’ season ended in heartbreak with a tough 71-65 loss to undefeated Liverpool in Sunday’s state Class AA championship game at Floyd Maines Arena.
“We definitely left a mark,” said senior forward Kendall Nero-Clark, one of three starters who got into early foul trouble and spent precious minutes on the bench. “It’s great that we won the LIC, but we all wanted the state chip. There’s still some unfinished business for the next class.”
This class nearly closed the deal. Senior guard Savion Lewis, who put on a display worthy of his being named Mr. New York Basketball on Friday, had 32 points and four steals and helped Hills East go ahead 31-19 in the second quarter.
With Nero-Clark and fellow senior starters Kenny Mathurin and Julien Crittendon on the bench for most of the second quarter with two fouls each, Lewis scored 16 points in the second period and led the team to a 37-30 halftime lead.
“In the first half, I was ready to bring it on offense and defense,” said Lewis, Long Island’s leading scorer at 34 points per game, who dazzled with an array of slashing layups and stop-on-a-dime pull-up jumpers from medium and long range. “But in the second half, they closed out on me and we didn’t play together as a team. At the end, they wanted it more than we did.”
The T-birds got strong contributions from reserves forced into more playing time. Burly backup center Max Caspi held his own down low with six points and eight rebounds. Springy swingman and super-sub Shamar Moore-Hough scored 12 points and hit all five field-goal attempts, including a pair from three-point range.
Crittendon, the team’s second-leading scorer, was out of sync with foul trouble. Still, Hills East (23-4) didn’t give up the lead until game MVP Charlie Pride (18 points) hit two free throws to put the Warriors on top 48-47 with 2:47 left in the third quarter.
Moore-Hough’s three gave the T-birds a 63-60 lead, but two inside baskets by Alan Willmes (16 points) put Liverpool (26-0) ahead to stay with 2:22 left. Point guard Kyle Butler delivered the dagger with his only trey of the game, giving Liverpool a four-point lead with 1:45 left that Hills East could not erase.
“These players took the school, the community and the coaches places we’ve never been before,” coach Pete Basel said. “And we took an undefeated team down to the final minutes. I couldn’t be prouder.”