LATHAM, N.Y. — Long Island Lutheran — the No. 4 high school boys basketball team in the country in the ESPN rankings — was somehow locked in a tie with NYSPHSAA champ Victor in the second quarter. John Buck wasn’t enjoying his view at Shaker High.
“I didn’t really recognize that team in the first half,” the LuHi coach said of his Crusaders, playing their Class AA semifinal Saturday in the New York State Federation Tournament of Champions.
“Coach challenged us, so we came out and responded in the second half,” junior guard VJ Edgecombe said, adding this was the message: “Just to pick up our energy. We looked sad out there.”
They had a happy finish, though. The Crusaders had gone up by nine at the break, then made a defensive adjustment and picked up the energy level enough to smash the game apart, building the margin to 25 by the end of the third quarter. They were on their way to an 81-52 win — their 21st in a row.
So the NYSAISAA reps will face CHSAA champ Stepinac in the final at noon Sunday. But that won’t be the end of Long Island Lutheran’s season.
LuHi (22-2) begins play at GEICO Nationals on Thursday in Fort Myers, Florida. But after 23 points, six assists and five steals, Jayden Reid said this state tournament is important to the Crusaders, too.
“This is definitely one of our biggest goals, regardless of the national schedule and GEICO and stuff,” the senior point guard from Westbury said. “We’re not looking past this right now. We’re looking to win this. I think all of our mindsets are the same. We’re not leaving without the championship.”
Brennan Hopkins made a three for Victor, a 24-3 team from Section V that claimed the program’s first NYSPHSAA title last Saturday in Glens Falls.
The game was suddenly even at 26-26 with 3:24 remaining in the second quarter.
“We came out a little flat,” Reid said, pointing to the fact that they hadn’t played since March 4 and had just been practicing. “think we were a little bit out of rhythm at the beginning.”
The Blue Devils, who were paced by Garrett Clar’s 17 points, were trailing by two before Reid contributed two assists and a baseline drive to power a 7-0 closing burst, good for a 38-29 lead at the break.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” Victor coach Tyler Roberts said. “He made a lot of great passes. Great scorer. They had too many answers for us today.”
Jayden Ross got LuHi started in the third quarter with a dunk off a turnover. Amdy Ndiaye, who scored 13, made a three. Ross followed with a three after an Ndiaye steal. Reid drove for two. Edgecombe, who also scored 13, dunked following another turnover. Reid buried a three from the right corner.
And so it went.
When Reid nailed another three, the lead was 26 at 60-34. LuHi ended up outscoring Victor 24-8 in the period to go up 62-37.
“We got running,” Edgecombe said. “We got momentum.”
The lead swelled to as many as 33 in the fourth.
So much for the first-half struggles. Buck spoke about the 11 a.m. tip-off time and the unfamiliar venue and opponent, one that was “system-oriented.”
“A lot of our games, we’re planning for guys who are going to Kansas and Duke,” Buck said. “We have to key in on players. But this was a different type of game. Give Victor credit and their coaching staff for running a great program and being a champion. They made us work today.”