GLENS FALLS — From the unlikeliest of contenders to the top of the mountain, the Ichabod Crane Riders pulled themselves from the brink to win a championship Sunday.
Battling all the way back from a 13-0 hole, Ichabod Crane held off Friends Academy for a 63-62 Class B championship victory to cap off the State Boys Basketball Tournament.
When Jack Mullins chased down his own rebound in the panicked final seconds to run out the clock, the Riders had wrung one final moment of drama out of a game filled with them.
Several hundred blue-clad Ichabod Crane supporters began to celebrate the school’s first state basketball title — which had seemed unlikely for a team that started the season 3-5 and was seeded sixth in the Section II playoffs.
“No one ever expected us to be here,” said junior point guard Alex Schmidt, who scored 19 points and made the all-tournament team. “Everyone counted us out, some people didn’t expect us to get past the second round of sectionals, and here we are — best team in the state.”
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“We joked a couple of times that we could win a state championship, but I don’t think anybody was really serious about it,” said senior forward Brett Richards, who earned Class B MVP honors with his 19 points and 17 rebounds. “I know I didn’t. I figured I’d be starting my tennis season this week.”
Said Riders coach Will Ferguson, whose team finished 21-7: “It’s a series of breaks along the way. You have to have some luck to get through here. We’re probably not the best team in Section II, but we’re the best team today.”
A state championship certainly seemed unlikely after the Riders gave up 13 straight points off the opening tip to talented Friends Academy (23-3), the Section VIII champs.
Even worse for Ichabod Crane, Richards went down with an ankle injury with two minutes left in the first quarter and his team down 15-4. Richards, a ball-hawking 6-foot-5 presence inside, had to be helped to the locker room.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh, no, I broke it,’ but I think I was just being dramatic,” Richards said. “I put some weight on it, I got taped up, I did some sprints and I was back out on the court.”
In his own Willis Reed moment, Richards checked back into the game to a rousing cheer when the second quarter started, and his team looking up at a 19-6 deficit.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like we were done there, but when he came back, that’s all we needed,” Schmidt said. “That’s our guy, he’s our best player and we needed him, and he pulled through.”
“When he came back in, you see how it changed the whole team, just his leadership, and it was off to the races from there,” Ferguson said.
The Riders began a steady, unrelenting comeback in the second quarter, opening the second quarter with a 12-3 run to pull within striking distance. All five starters scored as Ichabod Crane outscored the Quakers 21-13 in the period.
“We’ve been here before,” Schmidt said of facing another double-digit deficit in the playoffs. “It’s our thing. All season long, we’ve come back and had so much adversity, we just use the energy to propel us.”
Fueled by timely defensive stops and fast-break layups, Ichabod Crane stayed right on the Quakers’ heels, pulling even at 43-43 on a layup by Richards to start the fourth quarter.
The Riders took the lead for good, 51-49, on a pair of foul shots by Mullins with 5:43 left. A steal and long pass by Schmidt to Mullins for a wide-open layup extended the lead to 61-54 with 1:25 remaining.
Friends closed within 61-59 on a layup by C.J. Williams with 14 seconds left. Schmidt drained two clutch free throws for a four-point cushion — one the Riders needed when Malachi Polson converted a three-point play at the other end with 5.8 seconds to play.
One second later, Mullins went to the line to shoot two.
He missed both, but he beat everyone to the rebound.
“When I missed that, I just tried to grab the rebound because I knew I was quicker than their big men,” said Mullins, a sophomore guard who had 16 points. “I knew where (the ball) was going, I just tried to get it and run out the clock.”
The Riders did an exceptional job defending Williams, the Quakers’ 6-foot-8, 325-pound center, who was held to 12 points, but did have 19 rebounds. Gabe Ferencz led Friends with 21 points and Polson scored 19.
“You can’t give enough credit to (junior forward) Dan Warner,” Ferguson said. “He fronted that big man, and once we got him in the front, he didn’t do a lot in the second half, he was out of the picture.”
“They had a good bracket on him,” Quakers coach Matt Johnsen said. “We didn’t even have dump-offs to him, we got nothing in to him, everything he got came off putbacks. It’s a credit to them, they did a good job.”