Mar 05, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Kavon Delee had the look, from 20 feet out, and he took it, a 3-point attempt that, one way or another, would decide Sunday night’s Section III Class AA championship game at the Carrier Dome between Henninger and Utica Proctor.
The shot was right on line – but just a fraction strong, clanging off the rim. And with that, the Black Knights lost, 46-44, to the Raiders, who avenged last year’s title-game defeat to Henninger and earned its first sectional title since 2008.
As the buzzer sounded, Proctor’s players and fans, who had suffered agonizing title-game defeats to Henninger (in overtime) in 2011 and Cicero-North Syracuse in 2010, embraced and screamed in joy. The Black Knights’ players were close to inconsolable.
“These kids put their heart and soul into the program,” said Henninger head coach Erik Saroney. “When it ends, it’s really emotional.”
In that closing sequence, Black Knights point guard Tevin Chisholm drove to the basket and had to make a split second decision – either to take a close-up shot to tie and force overtime, or kick it out to the left wing, where Delee was stationed.
Saroney said that either option was considered in the time-out before play resumed. As it turned out, Chisholm passed it and, despite a Proctor defender in his face, Delee let the decisive shot fly.
“I thought he had made it,” said Saroney. “But he didn’t.”
It marked the fourth straight year that the AA final was in doubt until the final possession of regulation, a tribute, if nothing else, to Henninger’s resilience as it fought back from an eight-point second-half deficit.
Given their close contests through the years (including last year’s sectional final, won by the Black Knights in overtime) and their regular-season split, it was no surprise that the early stages featured close, physical play and a struggle for every basket.
Henninger nudged out in front, though, pushed by Ahmad McKinney’s six early points. McKinney had replaced Tommie Spinner in the starting lineup late in the season, and the 6-4 junior has gradually seen his offensive numbers improve.
Proctor countered with Maurice Mills, as the 6-5 senior forward earned six straight points late in the period, keeping the Raiders within sight, 15-11, going into the second quarter.
During that period, the Black Knights led by as much as seven, 22-15, with eight points from Marquies Young to complement the work of McKinney. Henninger could not hit outside shots, though, and the Raiders again chipped away at the margin, going to the break only trailing by one, 28-27.
And that momentum carried over into the early part of the second half, when Proctor caught up and moved ahead, 33-30, on Lavoy Leggett’s 3-pointer, but again the real story was on the defensive side.
The Black Knights had just one field goal in the third quarter, shut down by an aggressive, physical Raider defense. Chris Hicks’ free throw broke a drought that nearly stretched six minutes, but Proctor, getting seven points from Leggett in the quarter, led 38-31 going to the fourth quarter.
Saroney said that Henninger initially handled Proctor’s switch to a 2-3 zone well, but by the third period struggled more against it, settling for jump shots instead of finding success inside.
As the Black Knights tried to rally in the fourth quarter, Proctor’s J’von Evans would step up. Twice, the 5-8 junior drained timely 3-pointers, the latter coming as the shot clock was running out, which expanded the margin to 44-37 with three minutes to play.
Henninger fought back, as baskets by Young and Chisholm cut it to 44-41 with 1:45 left. Again, though, the Raiders had an answer, as Leggett hit an off-balance leaner and, on the other end, forced a Black Knights turnover.
But after not hitting a 3-pointer all game, Delee finally connected beyond the arc with 52 seconds to play, making it 46-44. When Henninger’s pressure forced another turnover, a pulse-pound finish was assured – one that would go in Proctor’s favor.