GLENS FALLS -- Championship plaque in hand, Jon Boon tried to evade his own players, to no avail.
Seconds after it was awarded Sunday, the Bishop Kearney team had corralled their coach and lifted him onto their shoulders — very tall shoulders — so he could hold the wooden New York state-shaped plaque even higher.
The Kings wrapped up the Class AA championship of the State Boys Basketball Tournament, holding off a gutsy second-half charge by New Rochelle on the way to a 45-39 victory at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
The victory, the Kings’ 12th straight, was certainly sweet for a Bishop Kearney team that started the season 5-7, stirring all sorts of talk about the traditional power from Rochester.
“It’s great for us, we proved all our doubters wrong,” said Thomas Bryant, a 6-foot-9 sophomore who earned Class AA tournament MVP honors with 15 points and 11 rebounds. “That just gave us more motivation to come out here and win a state championship. ... We couldn’t have any ‘what ifs’ in our head.”
“When you’re 5-7 and you’ve got the talent that we have, everyone had their opinions and comments,” said Boon, whose team improved to 17-7 heading into next weekend’s Federation Tournament in Albany. “For these guys to put that all aside and come together ... I’m really happy for them, because I didn’t change, they did. They really decided that this is what they wanted and they went out and got it.”
Senior point guard Antwoine Anderson added 14 points for the Kings, 11 in the second half, and made the Class AA all-tournament team.
“Words can’t explain how happy I am today,” said Anderson, who is drawing Division I interest from James Madison, Fordham and Canisius. “I’m very excited, especially because our girls won (a state title), too. This season really was a rollercoaster.”
The only team less likely than Bishop Kearney to appear in the state final was New Rochelle, which had endured a rough start of its own. The Huguenots’ 9-9 record and No. 9 playoff seeding was left in the dust as they battled their way into the state tournament, including some amazing last-second baskets to win games — like the upset of defending state champ Mount Vernon.
“At that time nobody thought Glens Falls was realistic for us, but we just kept our heads and played with heart every day,” said senior swingman Joe Clarke, who scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to make the Class AA all-tournament team. “And for us to make a run like this shows how much we matured over the season.”
Using their superior height — a frontcourt of Bryant, 6-10 senior center Chinonso Obokoh and 6-11 reserve Godspower Ogide — the Kings jumped out to a 14-5 first-quarter lead and extended it to 29-18 at halftime. Obokoh finished with 13 rebounds, 12 off the defensive glass, and eight blocked shots.
The Huguenots (16-10) made their run in the second half, powered by the inspired play of Clarke, who scored 14 points after halftime to put New Rochelle right back in the game. Clarke scored the final five points of the third quarter to cap a 13-5 run through the period, pulling New Rochelle within 34-31.
“I think in the second half, the kids realized that they could play with them,” New Rochelle coach Rasaun Young said. “The first half, we came out a little timid and of course, they’ve got size, they’re blocking shots, changing shots. I think the size factor mentally got to the kids’ heads.
“The second half we played totally different, we were much more aggressive going to the basket, getting offensive rebounds,” Young added. “I don’t think we had one offensive rebound in the first half; that was the difference in the second half, we started going after the ball.”
Anderson matched Clarke’s outstanding play in the second half, breaking the press and drawing fouls. He held New Rochelle at bay down the stretch by converting six of eight foul shots.
“It was just a matter of calming down,” Boon said. “We talked about it at halftime, we knew they were gonna turn up the pressure ... It was just a matter of withstanding it and making plays, and we made just enough plays. We didn’t always make the right plays, but we made enough plays to hang on and win.”
“We got off to a good start, but we knew New Rochelle would come out with a run, they’re a great team,” Bryant said. “We knew if we contained them and controlled their pressure, we could win this game.”