On a day when both teams played suffocating defense and contested nearly every shot, the most significant basket was uncontested . . . thanks, naturally, to a defensive play.
Valley Stream North center Shamari Griffith stole an entry pass near the Lynbrook foul line, dribbled the length of the court ahead of the field, slowed down to get his footwork just right and slammed home a two-handed dunk that provided more than just two points.
“It turned the game around. Everyone’s faces changed,” coach Dan Achatz said after Valley Stream North held host Lynbrook to three points in the fourth quarter and rallied for a 40-35 victory in a key Nassau Conference A-III boys basketball game Saturday. “Shamari was out of the game for a while when we used a small lineup. He went back in and got a steal and made a huge play.”
The 6-3 Griffith’s jam capped a 6-0 run that gave the Spartans (13-2, 7-1) a 34-32 lead. The Owls (10-3, 4-3) went back in front on the next possession when Robert Sitonio drained a straightaway three but did not score another point.
Taliq Abdul-Rahim (10 points, seven rebounds) hit four free throws down the stretch for VSN, which played lockdown defense and hit the boards hard. Noah Shy scored eight points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Spartans. Rylan Blondo led Lynbrook with 14 points but had only two in the second half.
“Coach always preaches that defense is the easiest thing to do. Just work hard and trust each other,” Shy said. “We work on our help man-to-man defense every day. We know that defense leads to offense.”
Griffith exemplified that in one sequence, but for most of the game, defense led to more defense — for both teams. The Owls’ zone confounded VSN, which countered with a switching man-to-man that surrendered very few open shots.
Lynbrook took a 32-28 lead by scoring the last six points of the third quarter. John Donaldson converted a putback, Nicholas Tuzzio sank a pull-up jumper and Sitonio hit two free throws.
That’s when the Spartans turned up the heat on defense and scrapped their way back into the game. Before Griffith’s dunk, Shy drained a big three-pointer after a forced turnover. The Owls not only went scoreless after Sitonio’s trey but didn’t even get to the foul line until the final half- minute.
“We buckled down in the fourth quarter,” Achatz said, “and made it difficult for them to get any easy shots. That’s what we do. We play nothing but man-to-man help defense and we force bad shots. That’s our mindset.
“We made mistakes, but we got rebounds, and because of our defense, we grinded it out. That was one tough game.”
Which turned on one notably easy basket.