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Zhaneia Thybulle helps Elmont get past Garden City in ‘A’ semis

Elmont's Zhaneia Thybulle, center, is defended by

Elmont's Zhaneia Thybulle, center, is defended by Garden City's Michaela Bruno, left, and Kerry McCharaher, right, during their Class A semifinal game at LIU Post in Brookville Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016. Credit: Barry Sloan

Points were scarce and emotions were high, and while each trip down the court in the fourth quarter challenged Elmont’s composure, the Spartans were able to win.

The top-seeded Spartans outlasted No. 5 Garden City, 34-27, in Sunday’s Nassau A girls basketball semifinal at LIU Post despite a challenging defensive effort from the Trojans.

Garden City used constant on-ball pressure and a fundamentally sound zone defense to stifle Elmont’s offense, a unit that thrives on easy scores in transition and slashers cutting through the paint.

But the zone eliminated most of the drives, making it difficult for the offense to find its tempo.

“We’re more of a fast-paced team,” point guard Zhaneia Thybulle said. “We like running. A slow start slows the whole game down, and we don’t really play like that.”

Thybulle scored four of her nine points during a 6-0 run in the final 1:53 of the second quarter that secured a 15-11 lead for the Spartans at the break.

Then, in the fourth quarter, she fed Kem Nwabudu constantly. The 6-footer has impressive range for a center, and even though Garden City’s Alexis Pagonis was a factor defensively, Nwabudu was still able to finish with 10 points and 13 rebounds.

“They’re our two best players,” coach Tom Magno said. “In a game like this, we need our best players to play like our best players. And they did.”

Nwabudu scored six of Elmont’s 15 points in the fourth. Gigi Faison and Jade Fernandez each chipped in five points for the Spartans.

Shannon Kelly (10 points), Kerry McCarraher (five), Michaela Bruno (four) and Kerry Defliese (four) kept Garden City (15-5) close throughout, but Elmont found another gear late in the game.

Elmont (21-1) faces No. 2 Floral Park in the Nassau A finals on Saturday at SUNY Old Westbury.

“Good things come when you play hard,” Thybulle said. “We started playing hard and we came out with the win.”

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