WHITE PLAINS – Tuckahoe boys basketball coach Al Visconti exhaled deeply, and jokingly blamed his senior guard Maxwell Pearce (left) for his lack of breath.
“He did it the other day too,” Visconti said. “He likes to give his coach agita. He turns it on at the end after my blood pressure’s up and I’m sweating and I’m stressed.”
Pearce scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter in a cardiac-test of a 59-57 from-behind victory over Martin Luther King Jr. Monday in the Section 1 Class C semifinal at the County Center.
Tuckahoe will play for 18th title in school history (the Tigers won in each of the first two years of the tournament, in 1933 and 34, and most recently won in 2011 and ’12) Friday, 7 p.m., against Haldane.
The “other day” was a quarterfinal win over Children’s Village, a game in which Tuckahoe trailed by 13 with about three minutes left.
“And our heart and will just brought us back,” Pearce said of that game. “Coach harps on playing from the neck up and keeping your composure. That’s what we did today.”
Tuckahoe survived a 16-0 second-quarter run that gave MLK a 17-point lead. Their pressure, up-tempo game – Visconti called it the “hallmark of the program for a long time” – rattled MLK. Tuckahoe got back in it with a couple of Pearce three-pointers, tied it on Jamon Murray’s three-pointer, and went ahead with 1:03 left on two more threes by Murray.
And still, MLK had a chance to tie with 14 seconds left, when fabulous freshman Daquan Campbell (29 points) couldn’t get a layup in traffic to fall.
“But the basketball gods weren’t on our side this year,” said MLK coach Scott Green, whose 11-6 team moved up from Class C after winning the D championship and going to the state final last season.
“In the third quarter they started hitting that three, and we started scrambling and lost composure and they were able to put that pressure. The pressure, it did what it was supposed to do. It got us rattled.”
Campbell had eight rebounds to go with his game-high 29 and teammate Dashawn Johnson had 12 to go with nine boards. Murray had 14 points and Rami Higgins 12 for Tuckahoe.
Pearce transferred from Iona Prep for his senior season.
“Santa Claus was good to me,” said Visconti, annoyed at the coaches who didn’t vote Pearce to the all-conference team. “He’s a terrific player and an even better person.”
Visconti, who cut his teeth as a Mount Vernon assistant and knows about such things, told his kids to appreciate this opportunity.
“I tell them, ‘You can’t take anything for granted.’ There’s 80-plus teams in the section and only 18 get here and they only give out five gold balls … records go out the window and you go on a three-game winning streak you become historical.”– Tania Savayan’s photo gallery of MLK-Tuckahoe