The shot from the corner never reached the rim. But Uniondale’s Najee Peters sure did.
The 6-5 senior leaped high to snare the air ball, banked it home, drew the foul and sank the free throw. Peters’ three-point play with 35.8 seconds left put Uniondale ahead for good and the Knights held on for a rollicking 62-57 upset of previously undefeated, two-time defending Long Island Class AA champion Brentwood Saturday in the fifth and final game of the Nassau-Suffolk Challenge played before a loud standing-room-only crowd at Uniondale.
“I just went for the ball. I knew I had to get it,” said Peters, who scored 17 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and made three steals. “It was Brentwood. It was a big game. We showed a lot of heart.”
Especially in the fourth quarter. Brentwood (9-1) used a three-point play by Jamel Allen (16 points, two shy of 1,000 for his career) to take a 56-50 lead with 2:08 left.
“In games earlier this year when we’ve been down, we rushed shots and made mistakes,” Uniondale coach Tom Diana said. “We’ve been preaching poise, and that can be tough for a young team. But we really did keep our poise late, and made a lot of big free throws.”
In fact, Uniondale (9-5) converted 13 of 17 from the line in the fourth quarter, including two by Kyle Harding (22 points, six assists, three steals) with 12.6 seconds left that made it 61-57 and essentially clinched the victory. “I was cramping up the whole fourth quarter,” said Harding, who had to hobble join his teammates at midcourt for the post-game ceremony. “But I knew I had to make those free throws to get the ‘W.’ I didn’t hear the crowd at all. It was just me and the rim.”
Brentwood sophomore Lester Quinones scored 21 points and nearly helped the Indians overcome a rare off-shooting night by Stony Brook-bound point guard Michael Almonacy, who was limited to five points by Uniondale’s harassing defense.
“We defended with great intensity,” Diana said. “And when we shot that air ball, Najee was there to clean it up. He’s fearless, with the heart of a lion.”