GLENS FALLS — Mekeel Christian Academy knew it was in for a major challenge when Lansingburgh knocked down one 3-pointer after another in the opening quarter of Saturday's Section II Class A boys' basketball championship at Cool Insuring Arena.
"They were hitting those shots, and I was thinking, 'Now they're serious,'" Lions senior Ozzy DeJesus said. "We had to get going."
Mekeel did just that, overtaking the Knights in the second quarter and holding on from there in a 74-67 win that wasn't decided until the late going, and with stars on both sides watching instead of playing.
Tournament most valuable player Alex Barnhill had fouled out with just over three minutes to go, and DeJesus stepped up with seven of Mekeel's final 13 points to anchor the school's second title-game victory in three years and third overall.
"I am extremely proud of these kids," Mekeel coach Chad Bowman said. "There were a lot of things to overcome in this game."
Starting with a 5-for-5 3-point effort by the Knights that helped them grab a 21-14 first-quarter lead against the state's No. 3-ranked team.
"We switched to man [from zone] in the second quarter," Bowman said. "We needed a single-digit quarter to get back in it."
Mekeel (No. 1 seed, 20-2) outscored Lansingburgh (No. 3, 19-4) in the second quarter 19-9 and never trailed in the second half, though the Knights never went away, even after Vinny Tario fouled out with 2:33 left and Isaiah Knight did the same with 1:30 remaining.
"It felt like there were nine minutes left and not three," Bowman said in reference to Barnhill's departure that came with the Lions up 61-57. "Ozzy stepped up. Everyone stepped up."
DeJesus delivered the play of the game with 47.1 seconds left after reserve Paris Banks sank a free throw and missed one to give Mekeel a 69-64 lead. DeJesus swooped in for the rebound after the miss, dropped the ball in while being fouled, and sank a foul shot to boost the Lions' advantage to 72-64.
"It was a massive play," Bowman said. "Ozzy has the heart of a lion."
"I saw the ball, and I went and got it," said DeJesus, an all-tournament pick who finished with 27 points and nine rebounds. "It gave us a boost."
Barnhill, who piled up 20 of his 33 points in the second half and snared 10 boards, was confident his teammates could pull out the win without him.
"They are my brothers. We are all family. We have each others' back," Barnhill said. "After I fouled out, I realized my team could still do it. I had to bring energy from the bench."
Tario and Kenneth Allison made the all-tournament team for Lansingburgh after scoring 15 and 14 points, respectively. Quashawn McFarlane added 11, while Knight, who was hounded by Jonon White, contributed eight.
"Two of our best players were out at the end," Lansingburgh coach Eric Loudis said. "We haven't had a player foul out all season. That was tough."
Tario and Allison both sank a pair of 3s in Lansingburgh's first-quarter surge.
"We knew they weren't going to shoot like that the whole game," Barnhill said. "We stuck with each other. We played with each other."
Barnhill had 10 points when Mekeel answered in the second period, with the junior's finger roll hoop giving the Lions their first lead at 31-30. DeJesus followed with a layup to close the half, and a 7-0 spurt early in the third had the Lions up 40-32.
Mekeel led by as many as 11 later in the third, at 49-38 on a DeJesus layup.
"They've had the fight of a pitbull all year," Loudis said of his Knights. "They never gave up."
Mekeel, which won the Section II Class B title in 2018 as a springboard to the state championship, will see regional action next Saturday at Hudson Valley Community College.
"If you want to go on a long run, there are going to be games that are not pretty," Bowman said.
MEKEEL CHRISTIAN ACADEMY 74, LANSINGBURGH 67
Lansingburgh 21 9 16 21 — 67
Mekeel 14 19 18 23 — 74
Lansingburgh scoring: Allison 6-0-14, McFarlane 3-5-11, Knight 3-1-8, Teta 2-0-4, Tario 6-1-15, Gerido 3-0-7, Wallace 4-0-8. Mekeel scoring: Rollins 2-4-9, Banks 0-2-2, DeJesus 10-6-27, Roddy 1-0-3, Barnhill 11-6-33. Scoring totals: 27-7-67, Mekeel 24-18-74.