From the staredown and trash-talking between Patrick Piasecki and Tobias Harris at the opening tip that required the teams to be separated for a moment, to the pulsating fourth quarter, this clearly was a headline heavyweight fight.
No. 2 Longwood stood toe-to-toe with No. 1 Half Hollow Hills West, exchanging jabs, counterpunches and haymakers. The Colts did not deliver a knockout punch - the Lions were too tough for that - but they managed a decision.
Harris, playing the entire fourth quarter with four fouls, scored 10 points in the final period, including a three-pointer that put his team ahead for good, as Hills West knocked off Longwood, 77-69, last night in the Suffolk Class AA final before a crowd of more than 4,000 at Farmingdale State.
"You have to give credit to Longwood. They stayed with us the whole game," said Harris, who finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds, six blocks and three steals. He also wore his Tennessee long-sleeved T-shirt during warm-ups. "I knew I had to put some balls in the hoop ."
Indeed, the Colts trailed 53-50 after three quarters, despite 22 points to that point from Tavon Sledge, many of them on gravity-defying layups. And they trailed 61-57 with 5:59 left when Gerald Holmes, the 5-9, 200-pound sparkplug who replaced injured Tajric Boggs, nailed a long three-pointer. Holmes had 10 points and eight rebounds.
The teams were tied at 63 after Sledge made a steal and layup. Then came a last hurrah for Longwood (19-3). Piasecki (12 points, seven rebounds, three blocks) took it right to Harris and hit a jumper. But while the roars from the Longwood crowd echoed, Harris came downcourt and nailed a trey to give Hills West (22-0) a 66-65 lead it never relinquished.
Moments later Tyler Harris (12 points) came up huge, too, sinking a trey from the right wing to make it 69-65. Tobias scored the final four points in the closing seconds to make the margin look bigger.
"This was the best game we played all year because it was Longwood," Sledge said. "All I said was keep playing. We've been here before. Tobias has gotten in foul trouble before so everybody knew they had to step up. Longwood is a shooting team and they really kept the pressure on us. This will definitely help us in the next few games."
Hills West next faces Harborfields on Saturday at Farmingdale State in Suffolk's overall tournament final. The Colts play the Uniondale-Baldwin winner at 4 p.m. on March 13 at Hofstra. The winner of that one wins the Long Island title and the Southeast Regional crown and goes to Glens Falls.
"At the end of the third quarter, Tobias said to me, 'Don't worry. I got this,' " West coach Bill Mitaritonna said. "Tobias is the man. Longwood is the best team we've played this year."
Darien Davis led the Lions with 22 points. "You played us tough," Tobias Harris said, over and over as he hugged each Longwood player after the game.
The game left everyone involved emotionally spent. "I'm shot," Mitaritonna said.