For the first 10 minutes of Sunday night's Alzheimer's All-Star Basketball Classic, matching the best returning high school players in Nassau and Suffolk, the pace was unusually slow. You expect the turnovers - these are hastily assembled teams - and the indifferent defense. All-star games generally favor style over substance.
But you can usually expect points in bunches and end-to-end action, a style that is quick if not slick.
However, with 10:22 left in the first half of the third annual AABC at LIU-Post's Pratt Center, Nassau led 16-13, which if projected out over 40 minutes in the two 20-minute halves all-star game format would have produced a 64-52 game. Not exactly what a crowd of more than 1,000 fans paying $10 a ticket for a very worthy charity came out to see.
Enter Uniondale senior point guard Aaron Cust.
He immediately hit a floater down the lane and then a layup in transition. But more importantly, he pressured the Suffolk guards all over the court, created turnovers, sped up the game and sent Nassau off-and-running to an eventual 102-92 victory.
"When I got into the game, our team was struggling. We were a little sluggish," said Cust, who finished with a team-high 20 points and was named the MVP. "I gave them a spark."
It was more than a spark; more like an inferno of energy that spread to everybody on the court. Both teams flourished at the faster pace and the crowd reacted with enthusiasm as heads snapped back and forth trying to keep up with the various scoring talents on display.
For Nassau, another dynamic point guard, Mical Ryan Boyd of Long Island Lutheran (a transfer from Half Hollow Hills West) backed Cust with 16 points. Forceful big man Hunter Sabety of Oceanside contributed 13 points and altered countless Suffolk shots. Kieran Ryan of St. Dominic had 12 points and Tidell Pierre of Hempstead and Dalique Mingo of Farmingdale added 10 each.
Cust was at it again in the second half when Nassau broke the game open. The 516 squad held a 12-point lead when Cust was re-inserted by coach Gary Charles (New York Panthers). He scored 10 points in a minute and a half to produce an 83-58 lead with 11 minutes left. Included in that flurry was a dazzling steal and three-point play followed by a breezy baseline drive.
"No doubt, Cust was our MVP. He ran the show," Charles said. "He made the shots and when we broke it open, he was the man. Part of our plan in the second half was to trap more and Aaron led the way."
Suffolk had plenty of firepower of its own, led by Commack forward Nick Arnold. He scored 15 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, including one spirited stretch when he hit a jumper from the left wing, a three-pointer from the right corner and sank three free throws after being fouled on another long-range shot.
That brought Suffolk to within 87-74 with 5:48 left. But Boyd went backdoor, Sabety got loose for a dunk on a feed from Boyd and Cust slithered through the middle on a dribble-drive that made it 93-78. The rest was just window-dressing, including the last two of five treys sank by Deer Park's Keith Williams, who had 17 points. Jason Wright of Bay Shore, Shaundell Fishburne of Southampton and Femi Olujobi of Brentwood scored nine apiece.
"We turned it over too much," said Suffolk coach Herm Lamison (Southampton). "Nassau kept us back on our heels."
That's because Cust was an igniter, offensively and defensively. "I like to play this kind of a game and I like having the ball in big spots," said Cust, who is being recruited by several Division II schools, including LIU-Post, Molloy and NYIT. "We're good friends with the kids from Suffolk, but this game was competitive. They beat us last year so we wanted to win. We knew we had to put up our A game."
The hefty MVP trophy presented to Cust at midcourt after the game was tangible proof that he earned his A.