For a second season in a row, Elmont and South Side were separated by the slimmest of margins in the Nassau’s Class A boys’ basketball championship game.
Elmont captured last year’s title in double overtime after the Cyclones hit a game-tying shot from around midcourt at the buzzer to end regulation. Last Saturday afternoon, OT was looming when the top-seeded Spartans produced a storybook finish to a 58-56 victory with a buzzer-beating putback by junior K.C. Ndefo.
Ndefo banked in a rebound of Ismael Astasie’s missed shot as time expired to give Elmont its third county title in six seasons and head coach George Holub one of the best birthday gifts he could imagine. Ndefo finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds, while Astasie chipped in 13 points.
“Just incredible,” Holub said. “We had the ball under our own basket with eight seconds left, and as we’re bringing it up the floor, I didn’t like what I saw, so I called another timeout. We called a play we run all the time, only this time we had K.C. down in the post instead of up top.”
Video replay is only used in New York in the state championship game. Ndefo said he was sure he released the ball before the clock struck zero. “The ball was in the air before the backboard lit up,” Ndefo said. “After I saw it go in, I couldn’t wait to celebrate with my teammates.”
No. 3 South Side was in position to avenge last year’s loss in the finals thanks to a furious fourth-quarter rally sparked by Ryan Predergast and Brandon Grayson. The senior guards combined for 14 points to turn a 45-38 deficit after three quarters into a 55-51 lead with 1:11 remaining.
Elmont (19-4), which played without senior starting point guard Victor Olawoye, who injured an ankle in the semis, could get him back when it meets Southampton for the Long Island Class A crown this Sunday at Stony Brook University at 11 a.m.
All five senior starters for the Cyclones (17-6) scored in double figures, led by Prendergast and Grayson, with 12 apiece. Ryan McCarthy had 11, while Dami Awosika and Pat Basile each added 10.
“Our guys played their butts off, and I’m really proud of them,” South Side head coach Jerry D’Angelo said. “It’s the second straight game we were down a bunch and found another gear in the fourth quarter. Little by little, we picked up the energy and hit big shots.
“Obviously, the kids aren’t happy with how it ended, but they’re handling it with class,” he added.
Elmont led 30-24 at halftime and had its biggest advantage after freshman Javon Santos (9 points) opened the scoring in the second half. The Spartans took a 7-point lead into the fourth quarter after Ndefo closed the third with an emphatic dunk.
The Cyclones weren’t phased and rallied to lead for the first time since midway through the opening quarter, 51-49, on a nifty drive by Grayson, with 3:35 left. They increased the lead by four but had nothing go their way in the final minute.
“They’re a great team,” Holub said. “Both games, last year and this year, could’ve gone either way.”