TROY, N.Y. — Everything the Elmont girls basketball team did in the first half exemplified its strengths.
Aggressive rebounding led to fast breaks, unselfish passing led to open shooters and tenacious defending led to contested shots against a taller Jamesville-DeWitt team.
But Jamesville-DeWitt, the two-time defending state Class A champions, started the second half with a 17-0 run and beat Elmont, 70-42, in the state semifinals at Hudson Valley CC. Elmont had led by eight with 1:17 left in the second quarter.
“The first half looked good, but I guess we awoke a sleeping giant,” said coach Tom Magno, whose team shot 60 percent from the field in the first half.
Meg Hair made four of her six three-pointers in the third, allowing Jamesville-DeWitt to build a 53-39 lead after three.
“It seemed like 100-0,” Magno said. “It was a helpless feeling over on the sideline there. But I don’t think we were forcing much offensively. We just weren’t making shots, which helped them get out on fast breaks.”
Despite a less than ideal finish, Elmont players swore they’d be back next season. The Spartans graduate just one player, Tahisha Jocelyn, and the athletic core that propelled the program to new heights this season will return as a tested group.
Though the scoreboard indicated a lopsided loss, Elmont displayed its signature brand of basketball in the opening half. A unit with natural speed and instincts in transition coupled with a scrappy defense has the Spartans poised for another run next winter.
Zhaneia Thybulle (13) and Kem Nwabudu (10 points) both expressed dissatisfaction with the loss but offered hope for the team’s trajectory. “We weren’t expecting to go this far,” Thybulle said.
“We lost in the counties last year; we made it to states this year,” Nwabudu said. “So I’m proud of my team.”
The Spartans trailed 25-22 before Gigi Faison’s three-pointer from the left corner tied the score with 3:40 left in the first half.
Following a miss by Jamesville-DeWitt on the next possession, Thybulle grabbed the long rebound and sent an outlet pass to Kiera Holland, who converted the finger roll for a 27-25 lead. Nwabudu and Faison added to the advantage until the Spartans had their largest lead at 33-25 on Nwabudu’s lay-in.
But three Jamesville-DeWitt players took over in the third. Hair (27 points), Julia Kelner (17) and Jamie Boeheim (17), daughter of Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim, were difficult to defend in the full- and half-court.
“I guess at the end of the halftime, they found out our personnel a little more, so they started to defend it better,” Thybulle said.
The common vibe among Elmont players was the hunger to return next season. Magno, Nwabudu and Thybulle all expressed the confidence that the Spartans have what it takes, especially after learning so much from a loss.
“They’ll be very hungry,” Magno said. “It’s going to take a while for this hurt to subside, but I know that the girls are going to start thinking about coming back pretty soon.”