Liverpool guard Charles Pride (5) drives past Mount Vernon's Joel Cooper in Saturday's state Class AA semifinal. Pride had 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the Warriors' 70-67 victory.
In order to reach the brink of its first-ever state championship, the Liverpool boys basketball team first had to make its way past a program quite used to reaching this glorious summit.
The Warriors surrendered a 13-point second-half lead to Section I powerhouse Mount Vernon in Saturday’s state Class AA semifinal at Binghamton’s Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena, yet got crucial contributions from all of its key players to earn a 70-67 victory over the Knights and move its record to a perfect 25-0.
“We’ve got many guys who can make plays,” said head coach Ryan Blackwell. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we kept our composure.”
All sorts of poise was required to turn back a Mount Vernon side bent on adding another state title to the 11 it already owns, including 2017, when it prevailed over Fairport, the team that beat Liverpool in this same semifinal round 12 months ago.
Going into the fourth quarter, the Warriors trailed 53-52, which was remarkable considering that, at one point in the third period, it had built a 50-37 lead.
The first big run had come during the second quarter, Liverpool outscoring Mount Vernon 17-5 at one point to overcome an eight-point deficit and take a 36-33 lead to halftime.
Then Alan Willmes Jr. caught fire after the break. His three 3-pointers sparked a 12-2 outburst, the kind of scoring spurt that Liverpool had used to break open so many close games this season.
To answer it, the Knights stunned the Warriors with 13 straight points. Nas Johnson broke that run with a dunk, but Jason Douglas-Stanley’s 3-pointer in the closing seconds put the Knights back in front with one period left.
That was Liverpool’s last deficit, but far from it last moment of stress, for even though it quickly reclaimed the lead early in the fourth quarter, Mount Vernon fought back again to tie it, 61-61.
What happened in the next 90 seconds won this game for the Warriors.
Noah Issakainen, already with a 3-pointer in the period, converted again from beyond the arc. Then, after a pair of Knights misses, Willmes hit two free throws with 1:27 to play.
Trailing 66-61, Mount Vernon closed within three on Troy Hupstead’s basket and then forced Charles Pride to turn it over – but in a memorable sequence, Johnson, and then Charles Pride, both made big blocks on Mount Vernon shot attempts.
Issakainen was fouled, and he hit two free throws with 50 seconds left, also converting on a breakaway layup seconds later to seal the victory – one where Liverpool attempted 22 3-pointers and made 13 of them, ultimately converting on 52.3 percent of its shot attempts.
During the fourth quarter, Issakainen hit on 10 of his 12 points. Willmes led with 21 points as Pride earned 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Johnson had a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds. Pete Cerrone had six points and Kyle Butler contributed four steals.
Charles Lovett, with 17 points, was one of four Mount Vernon players to score in double figures. Douglas-Stanley had 13 points, with Troy Hupstead adding 12 points and 13 rebounds. Brandon Scott added 10 points.
All that now stands between the Warriors and the state title is Long Island champion Half Hollow Hills East, who handled Rochester McQuaid 82-66 in the other state semifinal. It tips off at 2 p.m. Sunday in Binghamton.
The Thunderbirds features senior guard Savion Lewis, who was named Mr. New York Basketball by the Basketball Coaches Association of New York.