After a first half that was closer than expected, the Malverne boys basketball team got back to doing what it does best: bringing intense pressure and attacking the rim.
Those ingredients produced a dominant fourth quarter as the No. 2 Mules dominated topped No. 3 Wheatley, 67-38, in a Nassau Class B semifinal Sunday at Farmingdale State.
Malverne, which led 23-17 at halftime and 40-29 after three quarters, opened the fourth on a 16-0 run and outscored Wheatley 27-9 in the period.
Michael Warren scored 20 points and Michael James added 11 to lead Malverne, which will play No. 1 Oyster Bay for the county title at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at SUNY-Old Westbury.
“We had a lot of energy after coming off a little weak in the first half, so we had to pick it up in the second half,” said James, a guard who played a key role in the team’s full-court press.
Malverne (15-5) beat Wheatley by 31 and 38 points, respectively, during the regular season, but it was closer Sunday. The Mules played a more conservative brand of defense in the first half, while Wheatley (3-17) packed the lanes to force Malverne into jump shots. “We started in zone because we really didn’t want to get in foul trouble right away with pressure since they’re a very good foul-shooting team,” Malverne associate head coach Walter Aksionoff said.
“They were playing off of us and our shots just weren’t falling,” James said of the first half. “We were frustrated because we knew we were better than we showed.”
Malverne began the third quarter on a 10-4 run, but Wheatley was within 11 heading into the fourth. From there, the Mules unleashed their frenetic full-court press and attacked on offense.
“We started to see them get tired, they gave the ball up and we took advantage,” said Warren, who scored nine points in the fourth.
Wheatley also had trouble stopping forward Jayden Seraphin, who had six of his eight points in the fourth. Seraphin combined with frontcourt mate Donovan Ismael (eight points) to help the Mules control the glass on both ends.
“We started looking inside more, started penetrating more and started running more of our offense,” James said.
William Feil led Wheatley with 11 points.
Malverne now turns its attention toward Oyster Bay, with whom it split a pair of close games this season.
“We went to their place. We lost. They came to our place and we won,” Warren said. “It’s even now, so we’ll see who’s the best.”