A year ago, Savion Lewis could barely speak after the sting of a one-point loss in the Long Island Class AA boys basketball championship game.
Said Lewis on Saturday, “It stays with you. It doesn’t go away. I blamed myself for the loss. I needed to get back here and cross it off the to-do list.”
Half Hollow Hills East’s inspirational leader, deft ballhandler and shooting star did not let the second chance get away.
Lewis had 21 points, seven assists and six steals as the Thunderbirds defeated Uniondale, 69-54, to capture the Long Island Class AA championship before a crowd of more than 3,500 at Farmingdale State College.
Hills East (23-3) advanced to the state semifinals next weekend in Binghamton. Uniondale (21-2) was led by junior Craig Brown, who had 17 points and eight rebounds.
When the final horn sounded, Lewis began hugging everyone. He hugged teammates, cheerleaders, coaches, fans, anyone within reach. The burden that he carried and took so personally had been lifted.
“I really wanted to hug everyone in the gym,” he said, laughing. “This is the greatest moment right now. It’s all I’ve thought about for me, my team and my school. Our loss last season in the championship really left me with a bad taste.”
Lewis’ performance earned him the tournament’s MVP award.
“They deserved to win,” Uniondale coach Tom Diana said. “We didn’t finish at the rim and we missed too many free throws. I thought we did a good job defensively, but our shots didn’t fall.”
Lewis was the consummate point guard. His scoring ability drew Uniondale’s attention and he spread the ball to his teammates, who responded with big baskets.
“I am a point guard first,” Lewis said. “When I get my teammates involved, we win. We’re not a one-man show at Hills East. This was a team effort.”
Senior center Kenny Mathurin knocked down big shots, played physically in the lane and harassed Brown enough to keep him from taking over.
“I had to be physical against Brown,” said Mathurin, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds. “Coach told us it was important to slow Brown down.”
Hills East led 17-10 after the first quarter and opened a 27-14 lead when Lewis found Kendall Nero-Clark with a perfect pass for an alley-oop layup.
Uniondale scored the final six points of the half to cut a 14-point deficit to 32-24, but the third quarter belonged to Hills East. Junior guard Shane Dean hit three three-pointers to spark a 19-7 run as the Thunderbirds built a 53-33 lead.
“We all have a role,’’ Dean said, “and when I’m hitting threes, we get all the momentum. It felt good to contribute.”
Uniondale opened the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run to get within 53-41, but senior guard Julien Crittendon (15 points) buried a long three-pointer and Mathurin followed with a strong putback.
“This is as good as it gets,” Mathurin said. “Feels great.”