For the first time in a quarter century, the Elmont Lady Spartans are Long Island basketball champions.
Led by its vaunted defense and a balanced offensive attack, Elmont took a big lead and then staved off a Mount Sinai comeback to take the Long Island Class A title with a 58-51 victory at the Clark Center on the campus of SUNY-Old Westbury last Saturday.
Junior forward Kem Nwabudu scored a game-high 20 points, eight in the final quarter, to lead the Lady Spartans. Elmont, which improved to 23-1, advanced to the NYS Final Four where it will take on Jamesville-DeWitt (Syracuse) on Friday afternoon at 1:30 at Hudson Valley Community College.
The Lady Spartans appeared to be in complete control after a free throw by Jada Fernandez (12 points) gave them a 51-35 lead midway through the final quarter, but the Lady Mustangs refused to quit. With all five of its starters scoring, Mount Sinai (21-2) went on a 16-5 run to cut the lead to 56-51 with 54.7 seconds to play.
Elmont went cold from the free throw line down the stretch giving the Suffolk champs opportunities to close the gap, but the Lady Mustangs would get no closer. Senior Gabriella Sartori led Mount Sinai with 13 points.
Head coach Tom Magno knows that defense was the key. “The plan was to win with defense,” Magno said. “We always like to try to mix it up a bit. They were tough going to the basket against our man, so we played a little more zone. I don’t think our defense was bad in the final quarter; they went hard to the basket, hit a few threes, and we turned it over a few times. We didn’t think it would be easy.”
While Nwabudu led in the scoring department, the play of Zhaneia Thybulle (14 points, six assists) was off the charts. During a two-minute stretch early in the third quarter, she showed why she’s one of the county’s best. Thybulle followed up a 15-foot jumper and a dazzling move to the basket for a layup with three consecutive assists to lead Elmont on a 10-0 run that gave the team a 38-22 lead.
“I just kind of go with the flow of the game,” said junior point guard Thybulle. “When I feel like it is time for me to go, I go, and the team seems to pick things up. Everyone contributed today.”
Thybulle’s backcourt partner, sophomore Gigi Faison, was tremendous on both ends of the floor. Faison scored 10 points, and her length and athleticism played a big part in the Lady Spartans forcing 23 turnovers, many of which led to baskets in transition.
“I think we all played very well today,” Magno said. “Of course we look to Kem and Zhaneia to lead us, but, you know, we like to get contributions from everyone. I’m very happy for them. Very proud of this group.”