Source: Bob Herzog, Newsday
ALBANY — K.C. Ndefo was stuffing Cheerios into his mouth as he walked into the Times Union Center on Friday morning.
An early wakeup call for a 9 a.m. start disrupted the routines of most of Elmont’s players, and it showed when the Spartans surrendered the first seven points of the game.
But soon Ndefo was stuffing opponents’ shots, Jalen Burgess was making his and the Spartans were performing their steal-and-deal act. And they are one victory away from one more breakfast of champions in a historic season.
Burgess scored 17 points, Ndefo added 12 points and five blocks and Travis Robinson-Morgan scored 12 for Elmont, which went on a 17-0 first-half run and closed with a fourth-quarter flourish in a 61-44 victory over Brooklyn’s High School of Telecommunications in a state Federation Class A boys basketball semifinal.
Elmont (24-3) will play for its third major title this season when it faces Albany Academy in the Federation championship game at 5 p.m. Saturday. It already has claimed its first Long Island and state championships.
“We knew whoever woke up quicker would have the advantage,” Spartans coach George Holub said. “They were ready and came out like gangbusters. You always have jitters in big games, but we finally settled down and got into the passing lanes.”
That’s Elmont’s game, using its aggressive 2-3 zone to turn steals, blocks and rebounds into points in transition.
“Our legs weren’t warm right away,” said Burgess, who scored six points in a 21-5 fourth quarter that broke open what had been a tight game. “Once we got going, we played our game. We closed out on the shooters and we got on one of our runs.”
Robinson-Morgan scored three straight layups and Ndefo went above the rim to bank in a follow as Elmont scored the final eight points of the first quarter for a 10-9 lead.
Victor Olawoye, who scored 11 points off the bench, nailed a three-pointer to open the second. Ndefo sank two free throws, Burgess made an acrobatic one-handed tip-in and Yasir Lawrence scored on a breakaway after a Ndefo rejection. “I looked up and it was 19-9,” Holub said.
Devin Ballour (21 points) helped the Yellow Jackets rally. He scored 10 points in the third quarter as Telecom twice took one-point leads. But Burgess hit two straight jumpers in the last minute as Elmont brought a 40-39 lead into the fourth quarter.
Ndefo’s two blocked shots ignited a game-breaking 13-1 burst to start the final quarter. On the second one, he raced downcourt for a putback. Burgess followed with a soaring bank shot after an offensive rebound.
“Blocking out and defense is the key for us,” Ndefo said.
And the stats backed him up. The Spartans outrebounded Telecom 31-19, made seven steals and forced 13 turnovers.
“We have to do it together, as a team,” Ndefo said.
Even if it means an early-morning wakeup call.
“I once played a summer AAU game at 8:30,” Burgess said. He paused and added with a smile, “It was probably the worst game I ever played.”
That wasn’t the case Friday.
Source: Bob Herzog, Newsday