Mar 07, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Five short years ago, Syracuse Academy of Science was just opening, and Institute of Technology Central was still in the planning stages, a year from opening its doors.
Now these schools are the proud owners of Section III boys basketball championships after last Saturday’s Class C finals at Utica Memorial Auditorium.
First, it was SAS claiming the Class C-2 title, holding off Onondaga 51-48 as the Atoms rallied in the fourth quarter and got two clutch free throws from Dakeem McLain with 5.7 seconds left to help put the Tigers away.
Then ITC, 4-14 a year ago, completed a remarkable one-year turnaround when it toppled top seed Cooperstown 69-52, the Eagles pushed there by the combined efforts of guard Jahcin Ingram and forward Jebron Thomas.
Having lost last year’s Class D final to New York Mills, SAS was a bit more used to this stage. Still, it had to break from its usual fast tempo to avenge a Jan. 14 defeat to Onondaga, who rode a 12-game win streak into the finals.
The Atoms trailed through much of the game, yet never let OCS get clear, thanks to the work of 6-7 forward Ahmet Tunali, who made 10 of the 11 shots he attempted and finished with 21 points to snag tournament MVP honors.
With the score tied at 47-47, Kaleel Johnson’s steal and lay-up pushed SAS ahead by two with 1:40 left. Taylor Bassett’s free throw with 45.2 seconds cut the margin to one, but the Tigers entered the closing moments with just three team fouls.
Thus, OCS had to use up precious seconds accumulating four fouls to send the Atoms to the line. Finally, McLain got his one-and-one chance and, after the Tigers took time-out to try and freeze him, calmly made both shots to stretch the margin to three. When Ryan Gavin’s 3-point attempt to tie it went off the rim as the buzzer sounded, SAS had a sectional title.
ITC’s chances to join the Atoms with a sectional banner got a boost before tip-off when Cooperstown forward Michael Moakler, who had 24 points in a semifinal win over Watertown IHC, could not play due to a knee injury suffered late in that game.
Still, the Redskins hung close, even after the Eagles seized the lead for good midway through the first half, boosted by Ingram’s 13 points. That pattern lingered through the third quarter, as ITC could not get clear and Harrison Clinton’s 3-pointer at the end of the period cut the Eagles’ lead to 44-41 with one quarter left.
Just then, the Eagles, showing tremendous poise and confidence in its first-ever finals appearance, increased full-court pressure, which forced Cooperstown into all kinds of turnovers in the fourth quarter. ITC closed strong with a 25-11 run to reach championship glory.
Running the show from the point, Ingram, an obvious choice for C-1 tournament MVP, finished with 23 points, adding eight rebounds and eight steals. Inside, Thomas flourished as he amassed 18 points and 17 rebounds.
Now SAS and ITC are bound for a head-to-head meeting Tuesday night at Cicero-North Syracuse to see who would take the overall sectional title and advance to face Section IV champion Moravia in Saturday’s regional final.