WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Elmont has plenty of Z’s, so opponents better not fall asleep against the Spartans defense.
Zhaneia Thybulle and Zarria Franklin pushed the tempo and forced turnovers against Masters (Dobbs Ferry) in the 19th annual Slam Dunk Tournament at Westchester County Center, leading Elmont to a 54-37 win Tuesday.
The two dynamic guards keyed a 14-0 Elmont run in the second quarter that turned a 14-13 deficit into a 27-14 lead. Elmont (5-0) cruised from there. The Spartans play Susquehanna on Wednesday at 5:15 p.m. in the final.
“Our team is small, so we use that to our advantage,” said Thybulle, who had 11 points, seven steals and five assists. “We pushed the ball a lot and they couldn’t run with us, so we were able to get away and come away with a big deficit.”
Jada Fernandez began the run by grabbing an offensive rebound and converting the putback in traffic. Fernandez and Franklin each had six points in the spurt, with Gigi Faison contributing a putback of her own.
It all started with a swarming defense that pressured the ball everywhere on the court, leading to intercepted passes. And once Elmont got the ball, it was off to the races.
“If I had a choice of speed versus height, I’d go for speed, but there are certain disadvantages that go along with that,” coach Tom Magno said. “We just have to impress that everybody has to defend and share in the rebounding.”
Kem Nwabudu, the tallest starter at 5-11, nabbed 16 rebounds and helped Elmont escape with a 33-31 advantage on the boards.
Elmont’s fast pace lends itself to guard play and ball movement, which Franklin capitalized on. She shot 3-for-5 from three-point range, scoring nine points. She stepped into the go-to shooter’s role with Faison out the entire second half with a leg injury.
“She shot the ball very well,” Magno said. “We’ve been trying to get her to shoot the ball more because she shows in practice that she’s a good shooter.”
Westchester County Center, home of the G League’s Westchester Knicks, features the NBA-distance three-point line. Franklin didn’t quite convert from there, but she showed her range on two of her makes from deep. She said Elmont has been practicing longer jumpers.
“Starting this year, we started practicing taking deep threes so that a normal three would be easier to us,” Franklin said. “Warming up, I got used to it. I just took the shots that I knew I could make.”
Perhaps her biggest contributions came as part of a stifling defense that held Masters to 27.5 percent shooting from the field. Defense carried Elmont to the state Class A semifinals last season, and it appears primed to do so again.
“We enjoyed our experience greatly last year, but there was a sense that we would’ve liked to have gone a little bit farther,” Magno said. “I think everybody has that in the back of their minds.”
Teams would be wise not to sleep on the Spartans. If they do, they’ll have to try and catch their Z’s.