Only two boys were played on Day 1 of the Slam Dunk Challenge at the Wetchester County Center. North Rockland and White Plains won, and will meet in tonight’s tournament final at 8 p.m.
North Rockland got there with a stunning upset of Long Island Lutheran, as Rick Carpiniello reported. The Red Raiders were able to close out the game in the final minutes, something they couldn’t do in the Class AA semifinals against Poughkeepsie last season.
White Plains advanced after an ugly 46-44 win over Stepinac. Alexis Nunez hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds to go to put the Tigers ahead, as I had in my story today.
Some quick thoughts on the three local teams:
White Plains: Defensively, this is a very good basketball team. The Tigers looked good pressuring and with their traps, and played some good zone. They collapsed on Stepinac big man Conroy Baltimore very well and were largely responsible for holding him to just four shots in the game (more on that below).
Offensively, the Tigers need some work. It’s not often you score 19 points in a half and go in with a lead. They were fortunate they were playing a Stepinac team that’s in disarray offensively itself. Lawrence Pope carried the load in the third quarter, scoring 11 of his 19 points in the period. And Bobby Jones made some tough baskets late. But they were largely disjointed, especially with point guard Nick Cutsumpas on the bench with foul trouble.
I didn’t have high expectations for White Plains, at least not at this point. I think this team is really a few weeks away from hitting its stride. It would be an accomplishment if they were able to walk out of this tournament with two wins.
Stepinac: Yikes. At least from an offensive standpoint.
The Crusaders have so much talent. They just haven’t put it all together. Anyone that watched the game left marveling at Conroy Baltimore’s shot-blocking and rebounding ability. He’s a true talent. All nine of his blocks were emphatic and drew a gasp from the crowd.
But here’s the problem: White Plains did a better job of putting the ball in Baltimore’s hands than his teammates did.
Seriously. How does a kid this talented get only four shots in a game. How about the fact that three of those shots were off offensive rebounds. There’s no excuse for that. Teams are going to put a guy behind him and have a guard front him. That’s life for a high school big man. Baltimore looked comfortable when he moved away from the basket. But the rest of the team just stood and watched him.
Stepinac is going to struggle against good teams until it gets stability in the backcourt. Based on the two games I’ve seen, it has to put the ball in Kadeem Francis’ hands and let him run the point for four quarters. Francis is very gifted, quick and strong. He’s got to be the starting point of the offense.
North Rockland: If the Red Raiders win tonight, John Perez will likely be the MVP. The plaque, though, should go to coach Chris Roff.
Roff did an exceptional job in the upset of Long Island Lutheran of shuffling in guys and getting them to commit to the slowed down tempo. Kids hate playing like that, where the shot clock runs down to 4 or 5 on every possession. But the game plan worked as LuHi, which had been beating up teams on the Island, were completely taken out of their comfort zone.
Perez had 25 points and 12 rebounds despite being grossly undersized in the paint. And the North Rockland guards defended the perimeter very well. LuHi is a team known for knocking down 3s, as it did in its 38 point win over Peekskill. It didn’t get many good looks last night, at least not until the final three minutes when North Rockland had the game in hand.
Great resiliency and maturity by the Red Raiders, who haven’t been all that impressive to open the season despite turning 10 guys from a 20-win team. Wins like Saturday night tend to have long-term impacts.
Long Island Lutheran over Stepinac: There’s almost no chance LuHi plays like it did last night. And there’s a pretty good chance Stepinac comes out flat after a deflating defeat. LuHi should win 64-56.
North Rockland over White Plains: The momentum of last night’s win will carry the Red Raiders. They’re also going to do a better job of staying patient and working the ball inside against a Tigers team lacking a post presence. North Rockland wins 58-56.