When Malverne shoots free throws during practice, it usually is after five minutes of hard running. The operative theory is that being fatigued when you step to the foul line more closely simulates game circumstances.
Maybe that explains why the Mules made 14 straight free throws in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. They clearly were not tired.
In fact, No. 2 Malverne demonstrated its endurance by using a relentless full-court, man-to-man trapping defense to wear down No. 1 Oyster Bay and rally for an exhilarating 60-55 victory Thursday in the Nassau Class B championship game at SUNY-Old Westbury.
“Our kids may not always be fundamentally sound, but they are always in shape,” Malverne coach Darrol Lopez said after what he said was the school’s first county title in boys basketball since 2014, their 10th under Lopez and the 21st in school history. The Mules (16-5) will face defending Long Island champion Center Moriches in the L.I. title game at 5 p.m. on March 6 at Farmingdale State.
The Mules outscored the Baymen 24-14 in the fourth quarter to erase a five-point deficit. They scored their last 12 points from the foul line, getting there by forcing turnovers and taking the ball to the rim.
“From about the middle of the fourth quarter on, you could see that they couldn’t handle our pressure,” said Makhia Effs, who led a balanced attack with 14 points and was quick to flash a wide smile and own up to being the only Malverne player to miss a free throw, rimming one out with 11 seconds to play and the game in hand. “This is an absolutely phenomenal feeling for me as a senior.”
Mike Warren scored 12 points and made all six of his foul shots in the fourth. Mike James had 10 points and six assists and Donovan Ishmael grabbed 12 rebounds and scored six of his eight points in the fourth quarter.
Oyster Bay (18-3), which split its regular-season meetings with Malverne, was led by Anthony Reilly with 15 points and Devon Marmorlae with 13.
Effs, who also hustled for eight rebounds, sparked a 7-0 burst with the team’s last field goal of the game, a driving layup in transition off a turnover that he turned into a three-point play and a 49-45 lead with 4:52 left.
Marmorlae got behind the defense for a rare uncontested layup to tie it at 51 with 3:31 left, but Malverne took the lead for good on two free throws by Effs and repeatedly beat the Baymen off the dribble or in transition in the closing minutes.
“When you see kids bending over and breathing hard,” Lopez said, “you’ve got to be like a shark smelling blood in the water. We got into that frenzy.”
James said defense kept the Mules in the game when their shots weren’t falling. “We’re quick enough to use a man-to-man trap and get some easy buckets,” he said.
Of his team’s 16-for-20 free-throw effort, James said, “We know that if you miss one, you can lose by one.”
And that would be tiresome.