Elmont center Kem Nwabudu is aware she doesn’t generate the kind of hype that Morgan Staab of Kellenberg does.
And that provided Nwabudu with some additional motivation entering a non-league girls basketball matchup on Tuesday night.
“I was looking forward to playing her,” Nwabudu said of Staab, who averaged 16.3 points last season. “I like playing against people who can challenge me and help me get stronger. That’s what Morgan did.”
Nwabudu got the best of Staab when the two faced off in a 49-31 win for Elmont at Kellenberg. Nwabudu finished with 19 points, six rebounds and five steals, and held Staab, who is committed to play at Adelphi next year, to two points.
“I just played her how I wouldn’t want to be played,” Nwabudu said. “Hard, tough, no space.”
Nwabudu’s versatility overpowered Kellenberg. The junior was a force in the low post, displaying a wide array of moves. When she wasn’t converting tough shots in the lane, Nwabudu was finishing in transition and knocking down several shots from the outside, including two three-pointers.
Elmont (2-0) set the tone early in the first quarter, applying relentless pressure on Kellenberg (1-2) with a smothering full-court press and well-disciplined zone defense in the half-court. The Lady Spartans built a 24-15 lead at halftime.
A 15-0 third quarter run broke open the game and gave Elmont a 39-17 lead. Nwabudu had six of the final nine points during that stretch.
Zhaneia Thybulle was Elmont’s second-leading scorer with 11 points. The junior guard had the Firebirds on their heels by continuously pushing the pace throughout the night.
“We just let her go,” Elmont coach Tom Magno said. “She’s smart, she makes good decisions. We don’t want to slow her down at all.”
Thybulle’s energy could not be matched. Despite a 45-25 Elmont advantage late in the fourth quarter, her motor remained at full speed as she dove into the opposing bench and successfully knocked a loose ball off a Firebird and out of bounds.
“Mental toughness,” Thybulle said. “I never want to stop and it just keeps me going.”
For Nwabudu, it wasn’t just about putting on a show against Staab. It was also a matter of defeating a well-known CHSAA program like Kellenberg.
“It feels good to win against a Catholic school,” she said. “It kind of breaks the standard.”