Senior Nyia Longford sent her Longwood girls basketball teammate Janelle Brown a simple, yet meaningful, text message on Saturday morning before the Long Island Class AA championship game.
“She’s a good team leader,” said Brown, a junior. “I learn from her every practice. She’s really hit my heart. Today she texted me to say, ‘You’re the best point guard on the Island. You have to keep going. You have to keep doing it.’ She motivated me.”
Brown scored a team-high 14 points in the game at Farmingdale State, but it was Longford who stole the show. The point-forward had 12 points, 20 rebounds and made two key defensive plays in the final minute as Longwood captured its first Long Island championship, 48-43, over two-time defending state champion Baldwin.
The Lions play Ossining and Connecticut commit Aubrey Griffin in a state semifinal on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Hudson Valley CC in Troy.
With Longwood leading 45-41 after freshman Taydra Simpson’s three-pointer from the right wing, Baldwin raced down the court and had what looked to be a clear lane to the basket. In stepped Longford, who swatted the attempt.
The Lions turned the ball over and the Bruins had another transition opportunity, but Longford stepped in to swipe the ball, preventing a shot.
“Nyia is the rock of our program,” coach James Castiglione said. “She will go down as one of the most special team athletes that we’ve ever had at Longwood.”
On the other side was Baldwin’s Kaia Harrison, who could be spoken of in that same way. The Wake Forest commit had 22 points in her final varsity game and did her best to bring the Bruins back. She hit a mid-range jumper with under two seconds remaining for the final margin, but it was too late.
Longwood (23-2) held two-point leads at the end of the second and third quarters, but Baldwin (20-3) twice took one-point leads in the fourth quarter. Harrison’s three-point play with 2:21 remaining put the Bruins ahead for the last time at 41-40.
Tatiana Stevens and Kanesha Strider both hit a free throw, putting the Lions back in front, 42-41. Simpson’s key three-pointer came next, and she added a free throw 45 seconds later. Brown capped the 8-0 burst by making two free throws with 6.3 seconds left, putting Longwood ahead 48-41.
Longford’s rebounding gave the Lions plenty of second chances, and although the offense wasn’t perfect, it capitalized late.
“Coach said if we get rebounds, we’ll win the game,” she said. “That was my main focus. I wanted to get rebounds.”
Both Brown and Longford said they were confident after losing to Baldwin on Dec. 28, 56-47. Longwood outscored the Bruins 39-36 in the final three quarters of that game after a dreadful opening quarter.
Brown said she didn’t shoot well then, but she was 5-for-11 (2-for-3 from three-point range) in the rematch.
“She had to bring her ‘A’ game,” Longford said of what prompted the pregame text. “Today could be the biggest game. It could’ve been my last game playing with her, so I wanted her to know that she’s good and all season long she’s been great.”