The Half Hollow Hills East boys basketball players never were caught up in what they didn’t have back from their state finalist team last winter.
After graduating a senior-heavy lineup, including Newsday Player of the Year Savion Lewis, the Thunderbirds wanted to repeat last season’s success and were determined not to let anybody tell them differently.
“Teams thought we weren’t as good as last year because we lost a lot of players,” said guard Shane Dean. “But everybody, the seniors, the bench, everybody played well today and we really locked in from the start.”
No. 5 Hills East secured its chance to play for a third straight Suffolk AA championship with a 50-47 victory at top-seeded Longwood Wednesday in a Suffolk AA semifinal. The Thunderbirds (19-4) will play No. 2 Brentwood 5 p.m. Sunday at Farmingdale State College.
“We play as a team,” said Dean, who had 15 points. “We always play to win, so we look for each other. It doesn’t matter who is scoring, getting points, assists. We just want to win.”
Shamar Moore-Hough added 15 points and Max Caspi had 11 points and nine rebounds in the win.
“We knew we had those three guys, we just had to fill in the pieces,” coach Pete Basel said. “Our motto is still rebounding and run and having fun, and that’s what we’ve been doing. We knew we’ve been there before, and that was kind of the talk for us the last couple of games.”
After Longwood opened a 23-15 lead with 4:37 remaining in the second quarter, the Thunderbirds closed the half on a 13-2 run, taking a 28-25 lead into the break. Hills East then started the third quarter on a 13-3 run, taking a 41-28 lead with 3:13 remaining in the third period.
Longwood (21-2) had a chance to tie the score, but missed a three-pointer at the buzzer. Elijah Whitty led the Lions with 23 points.
“We just wanted to control the game and get out and play as a team,” Moore-Hough said. “Coach told us to come out and play with our heart, so we just pushed and pushed and fought.”
The Thunderbirds’ goals aren’t accomplished yet. They want to win another Suffolk AA title, and have the chance to return upstate to possibly win a state championship this season.
“People doubted us, but we’re back now,” Moore-Hough said. “So it’s time to work.”