Here’s my game story on New Rochelle’s loss in tonight’s Class AA state championship game in Glens Falls:
GLENS FALLS — Joe Clarke can score from just about any angle. At his height, it generally means his shots near the rim sail over, around or through the hands of taller, longer defenders.
In Sunday’s Class AA state championship, the 6-foot-3 Clarke and his New Rochelle teammates were forced to be more creative than ever. Bishop Kearney, the rising Catholic school power out of Rochester in Section 5, featured a front line that would make Jim Boeheim shudder.
“Every time he jumped, I was just trying to get it up higher and higher so he wouldn’t block it,” Clarke said. “Every time I threw it up higher, he kept getting it. He changed most of my shots.”
Six-foot-10 Syracuse-bound senior Chinonso Obokoh blocked eight altogether and 6-9 sophomore Thomas Bryant swatted another four. That duo flummoxed a New Rochelle team that faced a tall task just to get here. This one was taller still, and it ended the Huguenots’ magical season 45-39 in the state final at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Bryant, one of the nation’s top sophomore recruits, finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds to earn tournament MVP honors. Obokoh scored just four, but his 13 rebounds and shot blocking unquestionably altered the outcome.
“They had more than one. Most teams have one solid guy. They had three or four,” said New Rochelle senior Khalil Edney, who was held scoreless but grabbed 10 rebounds. “They did a great job rotating them in and keeping them fresh.”
With Obokoh, Byrant and 6-11 junior Godspower Ogide, Bishop Kearney (17-7) had that luxury. Their size left the Huguenots disheartened as they trailed 29-18 entering halftime.
“A lot of us thought we couldn’t hang with these guys because they had 6-9, 6-10 kids,” said Clarke, who finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds on 9-of-24 shooting. “But at halftime, the coaches told us, they bleed like we bleed. We just had to go out and play hard.”
The fearless Clarke helped slice the deficit to 34-31 at the end of three quarters, but, yet again, his team couldn’t keep pace. And that wasn’t the only problem with its diminished returns on offense.
“We forced a couple of turnovers, but we didn’t score enough to get into the press,” New Rochelle coach Rasaun Young said.
It remained a two-possession game for much of the fourth quarter. In addition to shooting 14 for 59 (23.7 percent) from the field, the Huguenots (16-10) went 1 for 9 on 3-pointers. Junior Derek Dorn hit one to make the score 3-2. They didn’t score from beyond the arc — or lead the game — again.
“Since we always come back, I was thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, we have this game,’” senior Terrence Holden said. “I still thought we had it, even when we were down by more than three. We just didn’t come through.”
New Rochelle delivered throughout the postseason despite starting the season 2-6 and 8-9 before reeling off an eight-game winning streak before Sunday under Young, the first-year coach. The team’s near-historic run seemed destined for another comeback, one that would’ve made New Rochelle the first school from the largest classification to hold football and basketball state titles.
“We had been here before in that position. Guys were just fighting,” Young said. “Joe put the team on his back again. He did the best he could, but those guys were just so long and blocking shots. It was tough.”
Photos by Seth Harrison/The Journal News. For a complete gallery, click here.