Last winter, the Elmont boys’ basketball team missed making the playoffs by two games. So far this season, it looks like that won’t be an issue.
The Spartans are off to a 9-3 start and have won four of the first five games on their conference slate to make them a contender for the Conference A2 crown. Their nine wins are already four more than their entire total from last season, which included a 4-8 mark in conference play.
It also helped that Elmont returned nine players from last year’s squad and that experience has been nothing but a positive for third-year head coach Ryan Straub.
“We basically are the same team from last year,” he said. “We’ve played together all year round, spring leagues, summer leagues, fall leagues, so we really developed that chemistry.”
The close losses that plagued the Spartans last year are now turning into wins, with three of them coming by two points. Against St. Dominic on Dec. 27, Elmont trailed by five points with about 40 seconds left and rallied to win thanks to two key defensive plays by senior and top ballhawk Girell Frias-Walsh, a game-tying 3-pointer by leading scorer Cassius Moore and a mid-range bucket by senior Nathan Phifer with three seconds left for a 52-50 win.
Four days later, Elmont erased a 10-point deficit by scoring 29 points in the fourth quarter for a stunning 67-65 victory over Southampton. Moore and Joshua Phifer hit key shots during the run before Frias-Walsh capped the rally with a three-point play and a pull-up jumper in the paint with two seconds left.
“I would like to think it gave us a good amount of confidence,” Straub said. “But I do think it’s important that we realize that this is not last year. Last year wasn’t how we want to play and we’ve grown leaps and bounds.”
Elmont still has room to grow after a 12-point loss to undefeated Baldwin on Dec. 28 and 14-point defeat at conference-foe Garden City on Jan. 3 but has shown plenty of resiliency by following each loss with a win. The Spartans followed the Trojan game with a 78-39 victory over Roslyn last Saturday.
Moore is averaging almost 16 points this season and has been the Spartans’ top scorer or co-leader eight times. He recorded a season-high 22 points at Sewanhaka on Dec. 15 before pouring in 20 two days later against St. Anthony’s. “He’s very skilled,” Straub said. “He can score from all over, he can shoot the 3, he can attack the rim [and] he can create for others.”
Phifer has led the team in scoring four times and is averaging 14 points a game. “He’s been shooting the lights out for us,” Straub said.
At least seven players are averaging at least five points. Seniors Nathan Phifer and Jaylen Thybulle and Frias-Walsh are just over six points and 6-foot-5 junior Osagie Ekhator is just under that threshold.
Six-foot-6 sophomore Ebu Nwabudu has shown plenty of potential and is also an intimidating presence on the boards.