ROTTERDAM — Schalmont’s Isaiah Smith stepped to the free-throw line for two shots with just about 30 seconds left, and his team ahead by one on its home floor against rivals Mohonasen.
The junior guard was the go-to guy all night. He had 22 points and was 7 for 8 from the line in front of his feet. But, he wasn’t seeing the line as well. The foul that sent him to line knocked out one of his contact lenses.
This time, the first attempt clanked off to the left. The second hit the front of the rim and bounced back.
The ball came back down toward the floor — the teams still separated by just one point. But, before it could reach the floor, there was Isaiah’s older brother, senior guard Elijah, leaping into the lane to grab the ball and put it back up and in. The lead was three.
The next out-of-bounds play, Isaiah Smith was there to get in Mohonasen’s passing lane and tip the ball to Elijah for another basket with 20.5 seconds to go. The Sabres sealed the win, 63-58.
“I’ve been playing with him since we were really little and it’s really fun being his partner,” said Elijah Smith, who finished with 12 points of his own.
Isaiah Smith, who finished with 22, said getting to the varsity level and still being alongside his brother in the backcourt is something that he’ll continue to try and treasure. But, Tuesday night was about getting off to a hot start against a school just across town on Route 7.
“The last game, we lost a game we shouldn’t have lost, and I didn’t want to lose this game because I wasn’t going to hear the end of it at school, either,” he said.
He was hearing it from his classmates early and often, scoring 15 first-half points. Also, a large crowd of younger Sabres families were at the game for Jefferson Elementary Night, which included a PTO coat drive on behalf of the school’s nurse.
Sabres head coach Greg Loiacono said he thinks his team is starting to “turn the corner a little bit.” He thinks tough games and atmospheres like Tuesday and Jan. 6 at Cohoes are preparing his team well for the postseason ahead.
Isaiah Smith and junior Ryan Woodrow led the Sabres out to a strong 37-27 halftime lead. Woodrow scored eight of his 14 points during the second quarter. However, their coach pointed to their defense as the key to victory.
The Mighty Warriors went an extended period of the second quarter between converting their third and fourth field goal, which was their last. The key struggle for Mohonasen was finding space in the post to get the ball above the waist, let alone shooting it.
“We did everything that they’ve been taught to do since day one,” Loiacono said, “in terms of man-to-man and fronting the post when they had a bigger guy on them, we had guys helping on the backside, so it was a total defensive effort.”
Coming out of halftime, it was the visitors bringing the energy and locking down defensively. Mohonasen held Schalmont scoreless for the first three minutes of the third quarter, while closing the gap.
Senior Kameron Coats was vocal about fighting back when the teams returned to the floor for the quarter, but he credited captain and fellow senior Karieam Brown’s words in the locker room for setting the tone.
“[Brown] came in the locker room and said, ‘This is still a winnable game,’ and I came back with him and said, ‘Yeah, it is. Ten-point game is a winnable game right now,’ ” said Coats, who finished with eight points and six rebounds.
Brown had seven of his nine points in the third quarter and junior guard Jacob Paolino added another seven — part of a game-high 26-point night with five 3-pointers — as the Mighty Warriors outscored the Sabres 19-9 to tie the game 46-46 going into the final period of play, and reinvigorate their side of the gym.
Immediately off the first in-bounds play of the fourth, Mohonasen took the lead, and the back-and-forth battle began. But, just like in the second quarter, the Sabres’ defense locked in again in the final minutes.
Mohonasen committed turnovers on their last three possessions, leading to Isaiah Smith finding Elijah and then another steal by Woodrow on a long in-bounds pass into the front court, and a tip away in the final seconds.
“Those last three minutes, we locked down on defense, and we talked and we communicated,” Loiacono said. “We did everything that we’ve been practicing.”
Mohonasen 17 10 19 13 — 58
Schalmont 20 17 9 17 — 63
Mohonasen scoring: J. Paolino 7-7-26, L. Paolino 1-0-2, Collins 1-0-2, Coats 3-2-8, Bullinger 1-1-3, Brown 4-0-9, Batcher 4-0-8. Schalmont scoring: Escobales 1-0-2, I. Smith 6-7-22, E. Smith 5-0-12, Masick 3-2-11, Woodrow 6-1-14, Schraa 1-0-2. Scoring totals: Mohonasen 21-10-58. Schalmont 22-10-63.
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Categories: High School Sports, Rotterdam, Sports, Sports