LATHAM, N.Y. — The best Class AA boys basketball team in the state gathered on one side of the court at Shaker High School and flashed nine fingers for the cameras.
Long Island Lutheran had a good reason. It has been another special season.
The nation’s fourth-ranked team, according to ESPN, had just defeated Stepinac, the CHSAA Class AA champion, 81-57, on Sunday in the Federation Tournament of Champions title game for this classification.
It marked the program’s first Federation championship since 2019 and ninth overall. Hence the nine fingers. It was also LuHi’s 22nd consecutive victory.
“From the moment I woke up and went to breakfast, I knew we were going to get it done,” coach John Buck said. “The guys were in the right mindset. They were focused. They were the ones in the huddle telling each other they’ve got it. When you’ve got a team that’s player-led, you can be a championship team.”
Jayden Reid was at the forefront of the championship photo, sitting on the court, holding the sign that read “2023 CHAMPION.” The senior point guard from Westbury led LuHi, the NYSAISAA representative in the tournament, with 20 points, six steals and five rebounds. He also tallied his 1,000th point in the final.
VJ Edgecombe scored 18 points, Kayden Mingo had 12, Amdy Nidiaye added 11 and Jayden Ross had 10.
“It’s just a good feeling,” Reid said. “We worked hard all year for this. … It’s just good to see it come to fruition, everybody playing their part.”
Now they go after a national championship.
LuHi tips off at GEICO Nationals Thursday in Fort Myers, Florida, with a quarterfinal game vs. Arizona's AZ Compass Prep.
“We’re not going down there to just play,” Reid said. “We’re going down there to win it.”
Reid often had the task of guarding Stepinac’s Boogie Fland. The heralded junior guard didn’t score in the first quarter and had just seven at halftime before finishing with 18.
“Before the game, coach asked me who I wanted to guard,” Reid said. “I always like taking a challenge. I told him I’d guard Boogie. Boogie’s a good player. Just doing a good job early containing him, I think that helped us.”
LuHi had a 19-14 led early in the second quarter, and then it took off.
Reid hit a three-pointer from the right side late in the first half to put the Crusaders ahead 38-20. Stepinac (22-10) trailed 38-23 at halftime, but scored the first eight points of the third to get within seven.
Long Island Lutheran responded in a big way. When Ndiaye buried a buzzer-beating corner three, it was 57-38 heading for the fourth.
“I’m extremely proud of our guys,” Stepinac coach Patrick Massaroni said. “We captured what I think is the hardest championship of all in the state, the Catholic league Double A city and state title. We went against obviously the No. 4 team in the country who plays a national schedule in the NIBC. Credit to them.”
They showed off more skills in that final period, including exhilarating dunks by Ndiaye and Edgecombe.
“This means a lot,” Edgecombe said. “Long journey. We had the pieces for it.”