East Syracuse All of the hometown pressure was placed on the East Syracuse-Minoa boys basketball team as it strove to win the 11th annual Vince Celi Memorial Tournament.
In Saturday's championship game, the Spartans faced Union-Endicott, and put up a strong all-out effort, but could not quite get the championship as it lost to the Tigers 74-67.
A day earlier, in the opening round, ESM had watched U-E defeat Baldwinsville 66-56, and then had gone out to face Auburn, where a terrific defensive effort proved to be the difference in a 51-46 victory over the Maroons.
All through the first half, Auburn struggled to establish any sort of rhythm in the face of ESM’s pressure. That allowed the Spartans to get away with modest production and slowly work its way to a 23-15 halftime lead.
Then, in the third quarter, the Maroons woke up, more than doubling its output and cutting ESM’s margin to 39-36. Through it all, the Spartans stayed cool and clamped down again down the stretch, hanging on in the process.
Auburn’s Trent Ward, who had 22 points, led all scorers, but ESM proved to have two potent threats. Sean Richardson led the way, with 19 points, while Jah-Meer McDuffie earned 17 points.
This led to the final against Union-Endicott, and ultimately the Spartans would pay for a first half where its defense was constantly burned. The Tigers, pushing the pace and finding all kinds of success doing so, steadily built a 42-30 halftime lead.
By the time ESM started to assert itself in the fourth quarter, the deficit had grown to 58-43, and U-E could afford a bit of relaxation so long as the Spartans didn’t get too close.
Still, the hosts battled to the end as McDuffie, with 16 points, led a well-balanced scoring effort. Richardson poured in 15 points, while Eyan Underwood stepped up for 14 points. Brandon Breen, with 10 points, also hit double figures, and Corey Beeles, with nine points, nearly did so. Before that, in the consolation game, Baldwinsville edged Auburn 48-43.