During a timeout before he was about to shoot a pair of crucial free throws with 4.1 seconds remaining, Westbury’s Isaiah Bien-Aise admitted there were negative thoughts going through his mind.
“Throughout the second half, I was messing up,” the 6-3 junior forward said. “I turned it over. I let a ball go through my hands on one play when I had an easy layup. I had to make everyone forget that.”
But when he stepped to the foul line with the Green Dragons clinging to a one-point lead, well aware that his team had missed its previous five free throws, his mind was clear. “I closed out everything. I knew I had to hit those shots,” said Bien-Aise, who cleanly sank both, allowing No. 2 Westbury to hold off No. 3 Baldwin, 48-45, in a thrilling Nassau Class AA semifinal played before a crowd of more than 2,500 at SUNY-Old Westbury.
Jonathan Dean (18 points, 12 rebounds), had given Westbury a 46-43 lead with a layup on an inbounds play with 3:01 left. A minute later, Elijah Bovell hit two free throws for Baldwin to make it a one-point game. A flurry of turnovers, missed shots and failed opportunities set up Bien-Aise’s trip to the foul line. Darius Young scored 11 points for Westbury and made the steal that set up Bien-Aise’s free throws.
“Those free throws were huge,” Westbury coach Dave Graff said. “Once he made them, the worst that could happen was they hit a three and we go to overtime. It allowed us to be more confident on defense.”
Baldwin wound up turning the ball over near midcourt after the inbounds pass, so Westbury (18-3) advanced to the Nassau Class AA championship game against No. 1 Uniondale at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at Hofstra. The Bruins (16-5), last season’s Long Island Class AA champions, were led by Jon Smith with 13 points and Norman Wilson with 11. Matt Trepeta came off the bench to hit two long three-pointers in the fourth to help the Bruins’ rally from a 37-25 third-quarter deficit.
Baldwin, using a ferocious half-court trap, scored 10 straight points to close out the third quarter and cut its deficit to 39-35. Wilson hit a driving scoop and runner in the lane during the run, and Derrick Ruffin added four points, including a layup after a Trepeta steal and long pass.
Trepeta’s second trifecta brought the Bruins to within 44-43 with 4:02 left, but Dean’s strong work on the defensive boards prevented any second-chance opportunities during the frantic final minutes.
Even when the Green Dragons had a double-digit lead, Graff said he wasn’t comfortable. “When you play Baldwin you know you will have to earn it,” Graff said. “There was a stretch in the game where we missed layups and free throws. But we had just enough to gut it out.