After splitting a pair of regular-season games, the rubber match between Conference A-I boys’ basketball rivals South Side and Roslyn in the Nassau Class A semifinals didn’t offer as much excitement or drama as anticipated.
The defending county champion Cyclones, fresh off a stunning upset of No. 1-seed Lawrence, were a step behind the Bulldogs all night and saw their quest of a repeat end with a 59-42 defeat on Feb. 27 at SUNY-Old Westbury. Senior Mark Gjonlekaj scored 19 points, including No. 12 Roslyn’s final 10 after its 19-point second-half lead was trimmed to eight with 2:30 remaining, and senior Andrew Slutsky added 15. Junior Paul Pandolfi paced eighth-seeded South Side with 16 points.
“We didn’t bring the same level of intensity as we did in the first two rounds, and we committed some bad turnovers,” Cyclones coach Jerry D’Angelo said. “To Roslyn’s credit, they contested our shooters well and their role players did a nice job. They play a very wide zone, and we just didn’t attack the basket enough.”
Gjonlekaj provided an early turning point. With the game tied for what would be the last time — 9-9 — he put the Bulldogs ahead to stay late in the first quarter with a pair of free throws. After a basket by junior Sam Gubernikoff, and a rushed possession by South Side, Gjonlekai rattled home a three-pointer at the buzzer to make it 16-9. The shot brought the house down on the Roslyn side.
“He’s made big shots all season,” Bulldogs coach Craig Murphy said of Gjonlekai, who totaled 26 points and 30 rebounds in playoff wins over Bethpage and Mineola. “Once we got the momentum, we wanted to keep it. We knew we had to play well defensively to beat a talented team like South Side.”
The second quarter was a carbon copy of the first. Freshman Alex Sorensen scored seven of his eight points in the second for the Cyclones, but the supporting cast for Gjonlekai gave Roslyn the secondary scoring it takes to go deep in the playoffs. Slutsky and junior Ben Rashbaum each had five points, while senior Terrance Pierce (10 points) and junior Josh Lavi chipped in a basket apiece as the Bulldogs stretched their lead to 32-18 at halftime.
“It’s one thing to have turnovers go out of bounds,” D’Angelo said. “Tonight most of our 19 turnovers came on the floor and led to some baskets at the other end. It was uncharacteristic of us.”
Down 43-26 midway through the third quarter, South Side made some headway with Pandolfi and senior Gerald Mitchell combining for 10 of 11 points to shave the margin to 10. It was 49-41 late in the fourth after a trey by Mitchell (12 points) and field goal by Pandolfi, but it was as close as the Cyclones would get.
“I don’t know how many people thought we’d get this far,” D’Angelo said. “While it’s disappointing the season’s over, I’m proud of how we handled the ups and downs and made a run.”