Last night's Long Island Class AA championship game was certainly one for the ages, as Tavon Sledge scored a record 46 points for Half Hollow Hills West in a 79-75 double-overtime victory over Elmont at Stony Brook.
Highlights of the instant classic can be seen here.
A basketball game can't get much tighter. The score was tied after the first quarter and at halftime and was a two-point game heading into the fourth. The biggest lead for either side in the second half and overtime(s) was four, including Hills West's 73-69 lead to kick off the second overtime.
Sledge, who shot 16-for-33 (48.5 percent) from the field, had a layup and Emile Blackman (11 points) hit two free throws before Tyler Dechalus, one of six Elmont players in double-figures with 10, scored six straight points to give Elmont a 75-75 lead.
After 40 minutes of basketball, Sledge acknowledged he was exhausted. It showed on his last two trips to the free-throw line, as he missed the first attempt both time, barely grazing the front rim.
"I'm really tired," he said after the game. "I kept missing the first shot. My legs were really tired."
So after taking plenty of criticism for resting his players in last week's Suffolk overall championship, Hills West coach Bill Mitaritonna's decision seemed validated last night. He refused to say it himself, though. "You know I can't comment on that, Chris," he told me.
What he did say was: "I'm shot right now, I don't know what else to say."
There were comments at the bottom of today's story complaining about the officiating in yesterday's game, and I will agree that the game was called too tightly. Anytime a team is whistled for 28 fouls and three players foul out (even in a double-overtime game), that's too many.
The officials seemed to put their whistles away in the first overtime, as no fouls were called on either side during the four-minute period. But that changed in the second, when Elmont, which had won 17 straight games coming into yesterday's final, was called for five fouls (including two to stop the clock), while Hills was called for three (including an charge on Sledge, who had four fouls).
Regardless, a 37-13 advantage in free throws is too large — even if Sledge was getting pummeled on some of his drives to the rim.
"We knew this game was going to be a blood bath," he said.
Credit the Colts for hitting their free throws when it counted. They went 12-for-17 (70.6 percent) from the line in the fourth quarter and overtime(s), while Elmont was just 2-for-6 during that stretch, including misses on all four attempts in the fourth quarter.
"I think we finally picked it up in the second overtime," Mitaritonna said. "We finally boxed out, got a rebound and made some free throws."
There wouldn't have been a second O.T. without a huge three-pointer by Sledge. He struggled from the outside (he banked in his only other made three-pointer), but drilled one from the right wing to tie the game at 69 with 14.6 seconds left.
"Did anyone think that wasn't going in?" Mitaritonna asked about the shot.
Next up for Hills West is Mount Vernon and stud West Virginia-bound guard Jabarie Hinds, the New York state co-Mr. Basketball winner with Lutheran's Achraf Yacoubou.
Said Sledge: "We're ready for anybody."