CLIFTON PARK — When he badly sprained his left ankle in a game a couple weeks before the start of the postseason, one thought raced through the mind of Mekeel Christian Academy boys’ basketball junior Dan McCarty.
“I need to get back. I need to get back.”
For a while, it didn’t look good. Initially, Mekeel head coach Chad Bowman thought McCarty had broken his ankle. Even when it was determined to be a severe high ankle sprain, Bowman figured his team would be without McCarty for the rest of the way, a vital piece gone missing at the wrong time in a season holding championship aspirations for the Lions.
“Danny’s our blood and guts guy,” Bowman said.
That’s right. So, really, it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise that McCarty returned ahead of schedule to the high-powered Lions’ lineup for a brief cameo off the bench in Tuesday’s first round win.
Then, Friday, just more than three weeks after he suffered his injury, McCarty was back in Mekeel’s starting lineup for the Section II Class B quarterfinals at Shenendehowa — and the Lions promptly ran past Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons 98-52 with their starting lineup back intact.
“Danny does so many things,” Bowman said of his junior forward. “He helps us on so many levels.”
Against ND-BG, McCarty showed his immense worth for the top-seeded Lions. With the team’s trio of senior stars — Deonte Holder, Jordan Jackson and Carter Stewart — firing away from deep, and 6-foot-4 junior Gideon Agbo patrolling the paint, McCarty set picks and kept the ball moving. He took as many charges (two) as shots, and both those successful layups came after he secured an offensive rebound.
On a team of stars, the 6-foot-3 McCarty played the role he’s starred in all season.
“Dan just does all our dirty work,” Stewart said. “He gets on loose balls. He hustles. He dives into the stands.”
With a smile, too.
“I try to play my role. I know that I’m not a scorer,” said McCarty, who averages a little more than a basket per game. “On the court, I’m a hustle player. Just try to do whatever I can. Take charges. Defensive player. Do whatever I can to help the team succeed and get to our ultimate goal.”
Bowman wasn’t surprised to see his team flying around the court Friday with McCarty back completing its lineup. After playing only a few minutes in his test run Tuesday, he played about 20 against ND-BG in a game the Lions surged ahead 28-9 after a quarter and led by at least 40 points for most of the fourth. Bowman said having McCarty back in the starting lineup served as a “shot of adrenaline” for the rest of the Lions, who count on McCarty to do the small things that add up.
“Points are certainly important in the game of basketball, but there are so many other aspects of the game — and I think talent comes in many forms,” Bowman said. “I think hard work and effort is actually a talent.”
And the Lions certainly don’t need more scorers on their team. Against ND-BG — which had sophomore Nacier Hundley offer a game-high 27 points — each of Holder, Jackson and Stewart made four 3-pointers on a night they combined for 56 points.
“But without Dan,” Stewart said, “we were really missing a presence defensively.”
Mekeel Christian (No. 1, 19-3) had advanced to the quarterfinals with an 82-51 win Tuesday against Johnstown, while Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons (No. 8, 17-5) had edged Cobleskill-Richmondville 72-69.
Mekeel will meet No. 4 Watervliet in Monday’s semifinals at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls. Watervliet defeated Catskill 66-63 in Friday’s other Class B quarterfinal at Shenendehowa.
“Watervliet’s got a great team,” said Bowman, whose team edged the Cannoneers 65-63 during the regular season. “They’re incredibly athletic.”
With another win against Watervliet, Mekeel gets back to the championship round where its season ended last year. McCarty said the weeks he spent rehabilitating his left ankle were pushed through so he could be there for the Lions in games like the ones coming up.
“I needed to help my team,” McCarty said.
NOTRE DAME-BISHOP GIBBONS
Hundley 10-3-27, Foster 1-0-2, Mettler 1-0-2 Carmon 3-2-9, Williamson 1-0-2, Colavita 1-0-3, Sexton 3-1-7. Totals: 20-6-52.
MEKEEL CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
Jackson 6-2-18, Holder 6-5-21, Car. Stewart 5-3-17, Barnhill 3-7-13, Cam. Stewart 1-3-6, McCarty 2-0-4, Winfield 4-0-9, Agbo 3-1-7, Barcelon 1-0-3. Totals: 31-21-98.
NDBG 9 15 10 13 — 52
MCA 28 25 18 27 — 98
Three-point goals: Hundley 4, Carmon, Colavita, Jackson 4, Holder 4, Car. Stewart 4, Cam. Stewart, Winfield, Barcelon.