GLENS FALLS, N.Y. - The game was an incredibly tense tug-of-war. Turns out, so was the final scrap for an offensive rebound that led to the winning basket.
Tobias Harris ripped a rebound away from teammate Tavon Sledge and banked it home with eight seconds left for the deciding points in Half Hollow Hills West's 59-57 victory over Rochester East Saturday in a state Class AA semifinal at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
"Got any blood pressure medicine?" cracked one Hills West administrator who made the trip for a game that was a heart-tugger to the very end.
"We both had our hands on it," said Sledge, who missed consecutive close-in shots during a furious end-game sequence. He got his own rebound after the first miss, but after he missed again, he doggedly pursued the stray carom. "Tobias grabbed it out of my hands and put it in,'' Sledge said. "I was trying to put it up again."
Said Harris, who was a titanic force inside with 24 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks, "I'm thinking, 'If he misses, I get the rebound. If he makes it, I'm back on defense.' When I saw the miss, I knew I had to go get it."
Hills West (24-1) will face Albany Christian Brothers Academy (24-1) for the state championship at 2:45 p.m. today. CBA beat Newburgh Free Academy, 60-41, earlier yesterday.
"This was a tough one. They played good defense and they were scrappy," said Harris, who was one of several Colts who turned the ball over late against East's trapping press as the Rochester school erased a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit. "It was a tough press and it gave us a different look."
Hills West, held to five first-quarter points and trailing 23-21 at halftime against East's quick-handed defenders, grabbed a 51-42 lead with a 7-0 run early in the fourth quarter.
Chris Cox, a second-half defensive substitute, converted a three-point play to spark the quick burst. Harris banked one in from a tough angle and Harris' brother Tyler (15 points, including the Colts' only two three-pointers) converted two free throws after taking a feed from Tobias and drawing a shooting foul.
Emile Blackman's baseline drive created the last nine-point bulge at 53-44, but Rochester East had a loud answer. Jonathan Ivy (16 points) made a layup on a nifty feed from Brandon Caruthers; Clint Wilson sank a three-pointer, and then Caruthers (12 points) made another huge three-pointer, after a good pump fake, to tie it at 57 with 54 seconds left.
Several ragged exchanges followed, including a crosscourt pass by Tobias Harris and a turnover off the dribble by Sledge. "I made a couple of turnovers late. I was a little out of control," Sledge said. "I tried to do too much."
Still, when Caruthers missed two free throws with 31.5 seconds left to open the door, Hills West coach Bill Mitaritonna didn't hesitate to let Sledge try to nail it shut.
"What was planned was for Sledge to go to the basket and do what he does best," Mitaritonna said of his strategy during the timeout. "He did a good job killing the clock to 15 seconds and then set up the offense.
"He just came up to me and said, 'I'm so sorry I missed those layups.' I told him, 'It's OK. You had the best player in New York State to clean it up.' "
A player who said afterward he couldn't recall ever having made a game-winning shot in his illustrious high school career.
"This is a good one to have," Harris said, "especially because it came up at states."