An overflow crowd mirroring those of the 1980s packed Lynbrook High School last Friday night and was treated to a thriller between two of Nassau County’s leading contenders for the Class A boys’ basketball title.
Seniors James Montgomery (20 points, 14 rebounds) and Rylan Blondo (18, 10) posted a double-double and senior Brandon Pekale hit for a career-high 18 points as the host Owls snapped Valley Stream South’s nine-game winning streak while capturing their ninth in a row, taking a 75-64 decision to create a virtual tie atop Conference A-IV.
Lynbrook improved to 14-1 overall and 7-1 in A-IV as South dipped to 11-3; 6-1 in A-IV. The teams have an insurmountable lead over conference rivals and will share the title should they both run the table.
“I never thought we’d play in front of such a large crowd at home,” said Blondo, who a week earlier reached the 1,000-career point mark. “It was incredible and something we’ll never forget,” he added. “We played faster and rebounded and defended a lot better than we did against them the first time.”
The Falcons, who defeated the Owls 72-56 on Dec. 20 behind 31 points from senior Corey Powell, were led in the rematch by senior Aaron Davis, who scored 13 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth quarter. Powell had 12, senior Elijah Johnson had 11, and junior Emil Williams had 10 before fouling out in the final minute.
“We have to give Lynbrook credit,” said VSS head coach Mike O’Brien, who believes there’s a good chance the teams could meet again come playoff time. “They came out strong and shot really well in the first half,” he added. “Defense was the key to us beating them the first time, but we didn’t have a great defensive game tonight and they limited our second chances on the boards.”
The Owls fed off Caroline Ridings’ spectacular version of the Star Spangled Banner as well as the crowd’s energy to lead 20-13 after the first quarter, marking just the second time all season the Falcons trailed through eight minutes. Montgomery, who led Lynbrook with 17 points in the first meeting, help set the tone with seven points.
The advantage swelled to as many as 11 in the second quarter, thanks in large part to Blondo’s playmaking and Pekale’s shooting touch. Pekale scored Lynbrook’s last eight points of the half and it led 34-28 at intermission.
In third quarter and much of the fourth, the intensity level and performances of both teams escalated. South led for the first time since Powell’s game-opening basket when Davis nailed his fourth of five treys with 6:57 remaining for a 53-52 lead. But a traditional three-point play by sophomore Thomas deMenezes a few seconds later put the Owls ahead to stay for good.
“We preached all week how it was going to take all five guys on the court to get this done,” Lynbrook head coach Jamie Adams said. “Balanced scoring is huge, but I think what we did defensively is really what made the difference.”