The tradition of boys basketball excellence runs deep at Malverne. The players on the current team understand they have been entrusted to carry on the legacy and, as senior forward Jayden Seraphin admitted “sometimes there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that.”
But it also is the reason the Mules dig deep when things are on the line, as they did Tuesday night against Wheatley.
Malverne trailed all through the second half and by seven when Wheatley’s 6-5 senior Kyle Eberlein put back Jimmy O’Connell’s missed scoop shot with 3:10 to play.
Then Malverne closed the game with a 10-0 run to eke out a 47-44 victory in the late Nassau Class B semifinal at Farmingdale State’s Nold Athletic Center.
Second-seeded Malverne (14-6) will be going for its 22nd county title in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. championship game against Academy Charter (12-3) at Farmingdale State.
Michael Warren had been off the mark on three-pointers most of the game, but the junior guard made a pair of them in a minute’s time to draw the Mules to within 44-43 with 1:58 to play.
After a Malverne steal, Seraphin made the front end of a one-and-one to tie it with 1:21 left, and after another takeaway, he again made the front end of a one-and-one with 49.1 seconds left for the 45-44 lead, its first since 19-18 in the second quarter.
Trey Robinson, a 6-5 sophomore playing center after sophomore center Deandre Blagrove fouled out, rebounded the missed second shot and the possession ended with Malverne junior guard James Ackies III getting fouled and making a pair of free throws with 10.9 seconds left for a three-point lead.
Wildcats freshman guard Alex Wigginton got off a high-arcing three-point attempt for a tie at the buzzer, but it banked off the backboard, the front of the rim and out.
“We talk about the defense being our trademark and that’s what we fell back on in the late going,” said Warren, who finished with 12 points. “It got us through.”
“Things hadn’t gone well with us behind and fouls limiting us,” said Seraphin, who had 13 points, “but it says something that we stayed together through it and pull this out. We care about Malverne tradition and we want to keep this going.”
Wheatley (12-8) didn’t play like a team that had no players with postseason experience. It scored the last five points of the second quarter for a 23-21 halftime lead and kept getting big plays until the final three minutes. O’Connell led the Wildcats with 12 points.
Wheatley will rue missing 11 free throws on a night when Malverne missed 12.
“Defense and free throws will win you championships and we didn’t have the free throws tonight,” Mules associate head coach Walter Aksionoff said. “Malverne always plays defense – it’s our bread and butter.”