Mekeel to learn from lopsided loss to Albany Academy

'This is a night for us to learn from and get better'
Mekeel's Deonte Holder goes for a shot Thursday against Albany Academy.
Mekeel's Deonte Holder goes for a shot Thursday against Albany Academy.

ALBANY — Nothing about Thursday’s boys’ basketball game surprised Mekeel Christian Academy head coach Chad Bowman.

Sure, he wanted his Lions to play Albany Academy closer than they did.

But Mekeel didn’t head down to Albany to find an easy win.

“That’s a great team,” Bowman said after his team’s 76-54 loss. “That’s why we scheduled them.”

Like Albany Academy has done for several years, Mekeel is playing an independent schedule this season. That’s a first for the Lions, who dominated the Western Athletic Conference for years before leaving the league for at least this season and the next in an attempt to elevate their schedule.

With a tougher schedule, the hope is the Lions will be more prepared for the Section II Class B tournament than they have been in past seasons when they played the majority of their games against the WAC’s roster of Class C and D programs. Since 2010, Mekeel has played in five sectional semifinals and one final — but has not won an area title.

“For us, these games are part of the process of getting to where we need to be in February,” said Bowman, whose team will play a number of Class AA teams in addition to its game against Class A power Albany Academy. “This is a night for us to learn from and get better — and that’s what we’ll do.”

In its first big test of the season, Mekeel Christian Academy (4-1) stayed with Albany Academy (4-0) for a quarter. After the teams headed to the second quarter tied at 18, though, the Cadets had their way with the Lions. Albany Academy started the second quarter with a 14-2 run, started the third with a 9-0 spurt and built its lead to as many as 30 in the fourth.

“We started off good,” said Mekeel senior Deonte Holder, who scored a game-high 24 points. “Then, we just missed shots and we didn’t get back on defense.”

In past seasons, Mekeel could often get away with poor stretches during the regular season. Albany Academy, though, is a different type of program than the Lions have seen in the past — and a different type of independent program than Mekeel.

The Cadets — who have three New York State Federation Tournament of Champions titles since 2013 — play powerhouse programs from across the state and sometimes outside of it. Albany Academy does not compete in a Section II postseason tournament, but competes at the federation level under the New York State Association of Independent Schools banner.

“Our goal is to get better every day,” Albany Academy head coach Brian Fruscio said, “and if we can accomplish that goal, we’ll be pretty good when it’s time to be good.”

The Cadets looked plenty good Thursday, with junior August Mahoney (21 points), senior Marcus Filien (19 points) and sophomore Andre Jackson (14 points) leading the way.

“They’re a tough team to keep out of the lane,” Bowman said. “They do a great job of getting to the rim and they put a lot of pressure on you. They attack the paint relentlessly.”

Fruscio said Mekeel provided a quality opponent for his program, while the defeat served as a valuable tool to learn from for the Lions as they take a step up in competition.

“That’s only going to help them in the long run,” Fruscio said.

At times, the Lions grew frustrated Thursday, but Holder said the team understood it might take some rough losses in taking on top large-school teams.

“And that’s why we’re scheduling teams like Albany Academy,” Holder said. “They’re a very good team and we want to show we can play against them.”

For a quarter, the Lions did that Thursday.

The other three quarters? Those were really why Mekeel showed up Thursday at Albany Academy.

“We look forward to these games,” Bowman said. “This is how we get better.”

Mekeel Christian Academy

Jackson 3-0-8, Holder 9-2-24, Car. Stewart 4-2-11, Barnhill 0-3-3, Cam. Stewart 2-0-6, Agbo 1-0-2. Totals: 19-7-54.

Albany Academy

Filien 6-7-19, Mahoney 8-3-21, Decker 2-0-5, Jackson 6-2-14, Ullah 2-2-6, Brown 3-0-7, Grandinetti 0-2-2. Totals: 28-16-76.

Mekeel 18 6 11 19 — 54

Albany 18 16 20 22 — 76

Three-point goals: Jackson 2, Holder 4, Car. Stewart, Cam. Stewart 2, Mahoney 2, Decker, Brown.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.

Categories: High School Sports, Sports

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