BINGHAMTON -- The Mekeel Christian Academy basketball team won a state championship the hard way Saturday night.
The Lions didn't score much, but didn't have to with the way they got after it at the defensive end in a 42-37 Class B triumph over Seton Catholic of Binghamton at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena.
No Mekeel team in any sport had ever won a state title before these Lions. They managed just five points in the last quarter, including two free throws by Carter Stewart that made it 41-37 with 17 seconds left. Gideon Agbo added another free throw with six seconds to go.
The Mekeel Lions are the Class B State Champs!!! pic.twitter.com/POaHbUX6SO— Mekeel Athletics (@Mekeel_Lions) March 18, 2018
"We won the game 42-37 strictly off defense," tournament MVP Stewart said after the history-making win. "We didn't play great offense. We didn't play good on offense. We didn't play mediocre on offense. It was defense that got us through."
And that has been a constant with this team.
"The last month we've found ways to win basketball games," Mekeel coach Chad Bowman said. "Your offense isn't always going to be there. You can always defend."
But not to the extent that Mekeel did Saturday night. Seton Catholic (Section IV, 23-3) got after it, too.
"There were no open looks to be had," Bowman said. "That was a defensive slugfest in the second half."
The title was part of a steady climb in recent years for Mekeel (24-3). The Lions lost to Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk in the 2015 Section II quarterfinals, bowed to Hudson in the 2016 sectional semifinals and fell to Glens Falls in the 2017 sectional title game. The Lions beat Schalmont to win this season's area crown, topped Canton in the regionals and eliminated Briarcliff in Friday's state semifinal round in double overtime.
The win was the 400th in Bowman's run at Mekeel, though he somewhat downplayed the accomplishment.
"The story is the kids," Bowman said. "But it's pretty cool."
Stewart scored 14 points and Jordan Jackson had 13 to go with a splended defensive effort against Seton's Leo Gallagher. Gallagher scored 17 points, but five only in the second half.
"Gallagher is the engine that makes them run," Bowman said. "Jordan did a fantastic job. Gallagher is their playmaker, and in the second half there were stretches where he didn't touch the ball."
Mekeel, then known as Schenectady Christian School, won sectional and regional Class C basketball titles in 2007 before a state semifinal setback against Sidney.
Two other Mekeel teams played in state tournament games. Its girls' basketball team reached the state Class C semifinals last year, and its baseball team also coached by Bowman reached the state Class D final in 2009.
"Our stated goal was to win sectionals," Bowman said. "We thought we could make some noise [afterward]."
Stewart and Deonte Holder are 4-year varsity players at Mekeel. They hit back-to-back 3s to end the third quarter and give the Lions a 37-33 advantage. Agbo started the final quarter with a layup.
"This is way better than I thought it would be," Stewart said. "Unbelievable. I loved doing it for our program and our great fans and our great community."
Mekeel is headed to next weekend's New York Federation Tournament of Champions at Cool Insuring Arena. After breaking away from the Western Athletic Conference to play an independent schedule this season, the Lions did not lose to a Class B team. One of its losses came against two-time defending Class A Federation titlist Albany Academy.
Lake George (28-0) captured its third state Class C title since 2013 with a 66-65 win over Northstar Christian Academy (Section V, 25-2).
Lake George built a 15-point halftime lead and held on when Northstar rallied in the closing minutes. Caleb Scrime scored 20 points to lead four double-digit Warriors.
Lake George was the state runner-up last year, and looked headed for an easy go in its return when it popped eight 3-pointers in the first half.
MEKEEL CHRISTIAN ACADEMY 42, SETON CATHOLIC 37
Hartrick 1-0-3, Gallagher 7-0-17, Dempsey 3-0-9, Dyes 3-2-8. Totals: 14-2-37.
MEKEEL CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
Jackson 6-0-13, Holder 3-0-9, C. Stewart 4-2-14, Agbo 2-2-6, McCarty 0-0-0. Totals: 15-4-42.
Seton Catholic 12 13 8 4 - 37
Mekeeel 12 13 12 5 - 42
Three-point goals: Hartrick, Gallagher 3, Dempsey 3, Jackson, Holder 3, Stewart 4.
LAKE GEORGE 66, NORTHSTAR CHRISTIAN 65
Brown 2-2-6, Medeiros 4-0-12, Garwood 2-0-6, Pickett 1-1-3, Roberts 5-0-13, Brown 9-7-25. Totals: 23-10-65.
Jones 3-6-13, Flatley 5-3-15, Hoffis 2-0-6, Scrime 7-2-20, Becker 6-0-12. Totals: 23-11-66.
NC 12 13 14 26 - 65
Lake George 17 23 14 12 - 66
Medeiros 4, Garwood 2, Roberts 3, Jones, Flatley 2, Hoffis 2, Scrime 4.