Dec 28, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Aside from being gracious hosts of the annual Vince Celi Memorial Tournament, the East Syracuse-Minoa boys basketball team wanted to win the event, too.
But Auburn, one of the surprising early-season stories in the Class AA ranks, prevented the Spartans from that happy ending, the Maroons rallying late in Friday’s championship game to claim the title in a 73-66 decision.
On both sides, it was a well-played contest, but what cost ESM was its inability to take advantage of a strong first half and build a bigger margin.
Back-to-back baskets from Eyan Underwood and Jah-meer McDuffie helped the Spartans grab a 17-13 lead at the end of the first quarter, and that advantage grew to 35-26 late in the half as DeShaun Gorman hit on three consecutive field goals.
ESM had a chance to stretch the lead to double digits in the last minute – but instead, Zach Charles and Trent Ward converted for Auburn, the latter a 3-pointer that pushed the Maroons within four, 35-31, going into halftime.
Though baskets from Eyan Underwood and Jeff McDuffie made it 39-31 early in the third quarter, Auburn erased that deficit and, with Ward’s 3-pointer late in the period, inched in front 46-45.
From there, and deep into the final period, it remained tight, and ESM appeared to catch a break when Ward, eventually named tournament MVP with his 20 points in the final, went to the bench with his fourth foul with 5:56 left.
But Auburn didn’t panic. Instead, fellow guard Kareef Rufus took charge. His 3-poitner with 4:20 left broke a 54-54 tie and gave the Maroons the lead for good, and Rufus struck again from beyond the arc with 1:39 to play.
That basket made it 66-60, and ESM, hampered by two-for-seven free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter, never got closer than four points again. Rufus earned nine of his 12 points in that last frame.
Sean Richardson led the Spartans with 20 points as he, along with both McDuffie brothers (Jeff had 19 points), made the All-Tournament team. Underwood added 11 points as Charles matched Ward’s total of 20 points.
Both sides got there by winning close decisions in the opening round. ESM turned back Mexico 58-53, while Auburn used some last-second heroics to edge past Baldwinsville 66-65.
For the Spartans, Mexico proved far from an easy mark. Strong defense in the first quarter helped limit the Tigers to seven points, and that gave ESM time to see its own offense warm up, eventually building a 25-19 halftime margin.
All through the second half, any time Mexico, led by Patrick Twiss (17 points) and Justin Marsden (16 points), tried to get closer, ESM had a ready answer, thanks to a three-pronged attack.
Jeff McDuffie led with 17 points, just ahead of Richardson’s total of 16 points and Jah-meer McDuffie’s 14-point effort. Underwood, with nine points, got close to double figures.
This followed a dramatic game between Auburn and Baldwinsville. Trailing by 21 late in the first half and by 11 in the fourth quarter, the Maroons somehow rallied and won it when, down 64-63 and time running low, Charles drained a 3-pointer from the corner with 3.6 seconds left.
B’ville would rebound from that bitter disappointment and beat Mexico 75-58 in Friday’s consolation game, Kevin Drain leading the way as he earned 26 points, 18 of them in the second half.
With the loss in the title game, ESM was left with a 5-3 mark going into the new year.