Frustration turned to elation for the Albany Academy boys’ basketball team in the late stages of its game against Nazareth Friday at the Times Union Center.
With two free throws, a last-second steal and Jack Morrow’s buzzer-beating three-point basket, the Cadets clipped the Kingsmen, 43-40, in a Class A semifinal game of the the New York State Federation Tournament of Champions.
“On the back of our shirts, it says ‘Believe,’ ” said Albany Academy coach Brian Fruscio. “You’ve got to trust yourself and not panic.”
The Cadets could have done so after five straight trips downcourt resulted in no scoring, and a slim lead turned into a 40-38 deficit. Samson Akilo created that score on a free throw with 46.3 seconds left, and when John Moutopoulos answered by making both ends of a one-and-one with 31.1 second to go, it ended an Albany Academy drought that had lasted well over three minutes.
“It was definitely frustrating,” said Morrow, a senior swingman who scored his six points on a pair of threes. “You’ve got to battle through it. We stayed positive.”
Nazareth’s bid to take the lead ended when Marcus Jackson stole a pass in the lane and called a timeout with exactly one second left. That set the stage for Darrien White’s long inbound pass, and Morrow’s catch and hoist from just beyond the three-point line.
“As a kid, you count down and do the buzzer,” said Morrow. “All kids do it. Usually it doesn’t go.”
“Good for Jack. It was good to see something like that happen. It’s been a tough year for him,” said Fruscio. “In late January, his grandfather died in the parking lot just after our game with Green Tech.”
Albany Academy (15-4) had a home game with Nazareth (23-6) a month before that, and beat the Catholic High School Athletic Association representatives from Brooklyn, 48-44.
“They were up at the half, and we grind,” said Fruscio. “This was a repeat performance.”
Albany Academy of the Association of Independent Schools Athletic Association will try to become just the second area boys’ team to win a Federation title when it takes on John Adams (25-5) of the Public School Athletic League today at 5. John Adams beat McKinley (22-4, New York State Public High School Athletic Association) earlier Friday, 69-54, behind Markell French’s 22 points and Paul Johnson’s 20.
“McKinley was the team everyone was afraid of. They looked like a machine last weekend,” said Fruscio.
Moutopoulos scored six of his 11 points and the fourth quarter and took down a team-high seven rebounds, and Teigue Donohoe scored eight points including a layup that gave the Cadets a 38-36 advantage with 3:52 to play. The Cadets’ next five possessions ended on a travel, two missed shots and two blocked shots.
During that stretch, Nazareth got a tying putback basket from Ahmad Alkhulaidi, a go-ahead free throw from Samson Usilo and Akilo’s free throw.
Usilo topped the Kingsmen with 21 points. The junior’s 12 third-quarter points included a short jumper that gave Nazareth its biggest lead at 30-23.
“It’s not a good feeling,” said Usilo. “This is very painful, losing like that with one second left.”
White was near the end of the Nazareth bench when he fired his long inbound pass across midcourt to Morrow. Morrow made his winning basket in front of the Academy bench.
“That was an area play,” said Fruscio. “Darrien had a 6-9 kid in his face, and he threw it to a spot.”
Morrow caught the ball, pump- faked a defender, took a quick dribble and fired.
“That’s how we drew it up. Coach had me going in to screen and then pop out. I pump-faked and took a dribble. I wasn’t sure if it was
going to go in, but it felt great coming off my hand,” said Morrow. “When we left the huddle coach [assistant coach Hamlet] Tibbs said I’d have a chance to pump-fake and dribble. I put that thought in my mind, and let it go.”
“There’s no way you can catch the ball, pump-fake and dribble. It’s not possible with one second left,” said Usilo. “I don’t know what happened. You can’t go back on the call.”
Nazareth coach Todd Jamison did not make himself available to the media afterward.
“I have been around this game for a long time, 20-plus years as a coach,” said Fruscio. “I know [clock operator] Mike [Dickinson] is unbelievable on the clock.”
Matt Knezovic scored seven points for Academy, with his three-pointer and two foul shots aiding a 9-3 run to close the third quarter. Moutopoulos’ drive gave the state’s No. 1-ranked team a 34-33 lead early in the fourth, creating one of six lead changes. There were also eight ties.
Watervliet (18-8) meets Fannie Lou Hamer (28-3, PSAL) in a Class B semifinal game today at 11:45. Watervliet is the only area boys’ team to have won a Federation championship in 1991 (Class C).
“We’re not going out with the families right away. Dinner can wait,” said Fruscio. “We’re going to watch film.”
troy extends streak
The Troy girls pulled away in the second half to beat Graphic Communications in a Class A semifinal, 65-33, and stretch their postseason win streak to eight games.
Troy (21-5) held a 28-24 lead at the break before outscoring the Devils (17-1, PSAL) in the third period, 19-6, and in the fourth, 18-3, in their first Federation game since 1989.
Kiana Patterson scored 19 points for Troy on 7-for-11 shooting, Courtney Avery had 10 points and nine rebounds, and the Flying Horses collected 14 steals led by Cheyenne Williams’ four. Adrienne Graves paced Staten Island’s GC with 18 points and 11 boards.
Troy and Long Island Lutheran (20-4, AISAA) will play for the title today at 3:15. Lutheran beat Nazareth (17-11, CHSAA) earlier Friday, 44-36, behind Boogie Brozoski’s 19 points, eight rebounds and five steals.
ALBANY ACADEMY 43, NAZARETH 40
White 1-0-3, Moutopoulos 3-5-11, Knezovic 1-4-7, Morroe 2-0-6, Donohoe 3-0-8, Signor 2-0-4, Jackson 2-0-4. Totals: 14-9-43.
Chandler 2-0-4, Usilo 9-3-21, Akilo 2-1-5, Duncan 0-1-1, Alkhulaidi 4-0-9. Totals: 17-5-40.
Albany Academy 8 9 15 11 — 43
Nazareth 8 13 12 7 — 40
Three-point goals: White, Knezovic, Morrow 2, Donohoe 2, Alkhulaidi.
TROY 65, GRAPHIC COMMUNICATIONS 33
Driscoll 2-0-5, Pattison 2-4-9, Patterson 7-0-17, Bertrand 1-0-2, Avery 3-4-10, Evans 1-0-2, Knockwood 2-0-6, Hallett 3-0-6, Williams 4-0-8. Totals: 25-8-65.
Graves 7-4-18, Nunez 3-1-7, Spruill 3-0-6, Graham 1-0-2, Galey 0-0-0. Totals: 14-5-33.
Troy 24 4 19 18 — 65
Graphic Comm. 10 14 6 3 — 33
Three-point goals: Driscoll, Pattison, Patterson 3, Knockwood 2.