There will be a new champion in Nassau County and Long Island after the Manhasset Indians lost to the South Side Cyclones, 73-53, this past weekend in the Nassau County Semifinals. South Side lost to Manhasset in the second round last year and the Cyclones were eager to get some revenge as the taste of defeat from the previous year was still bitter.
No love was lost, as just before tip-off, Indians starting center Matt Donnell went to shake South Side’s Eamon McGowan’s hand and was rejected by the star power forward.
“I know that kid pretty well, but there are no friends once I step in between the two lines,” McGowan said after the game. “I will shake his hand on the way out when the score is South Side up and they are down.”
McGowan got two early fouls within four minutes of the first quarter and was forced to watch his team from the bench for the rest of the half. South Side’s bench would step up in McGowan’s absence, getting contributions from Jack McDonald, Griffin O’Shea and Anthony Pericolosi.
For Manhasset, Ahmad Crowell made his playoff debut after coming off the bench early in the first quarter. The junior frontcourt player led all Manhasset scorers with 15 points in the game despite getting into some foul trouble early on.
After being down only two points at the end of the first quarter, the Indians looked to get a concrete lead over the Cyclones in the second. Manhasset shot over South Side’s extended 3-2 half court zone with point guard Connor Dunphy hitting a three and shooting guard Joe Busch adding two of his own from behind the arc in the quarter.
Manhasset finally thought they had the lead after freshman forward Liam Connor hit a layup to make it 30-29 Manhasset with under 10 seconds remaining in the half. However, South Side were able to advance the ball quickly up the court and got Ryan Ledwith a good look from three that went in as the buzzer sounded to give the Cyclones a two-point lead going into halftime.
“Sometimes, the basketball gods are on one teams’ side,” Manhasset head coach George Bruns said. “Happened to us last year, where we made a basket similar to that. Even luckier.”
South Side would come out of the intermission and dominate the third quarter, outscoring Manhasset 21 to 6 in the eight-minute period. All of South Side’s points in the third came from their senior starters McGowan, John Murphy and Quinn Shannon. More impressive was South Side’s zone that stymied the Indians’ potent offense by getting out to shooters on the perimeter and consistently ending possessions with a defensive rebound.
“They kind of just pushed us out on the perimeter and we did not really get the ball inside as much as we would have liked to,” Bruns said. “All year long, we have been plagued a little bit by getting only one shot at the basket. I think they did a nice job, we kind of expected it, but we didn’t really perform, as well as we could have against [the zone].”
South Side, who stayed in their zone the whole game, frustrated a Manhasset team that is used to getting out on the break and finding open shooters from three.
“I looked at a lot of similarities that they had with us,” South Side head coach Jerry D’Angelo said. “Very unselfish, very good team, shoot the ball well, physical and very fundamental sound, offensively and defensively. Our preparation this week was to contest on shooters, make them do something a little different with an extra pass or dribble and rebounding was going to be a key for us.”
Entering the fourth quarter, South Side was up 53-36, and Manhasset came out in 1-3-1 trap zone with 6’3” Crowell spearheading it and trying to create turnovers while South Side ticked down the 35-second shot clock. Despite Manhasset’s offense also getting back into gear in the fourth, the third quarter deficit was too much to overcome.
“Got to give them credit, South Side played really well,” Bruns said. “Take nothing away from them, they just beat us.”
McGowan would score all of his 14 points in the second half after returning from foul trouble. He was able to physically dominate the game as well, securing rebounds and getting steals on the defensive end.
“It was a beautiful game,” McGowan said. “We had a lot of revenge from when we lost to them in the second round last year.”
The defending champs were never expected to be in this position after losing all five of their starters to graduation from last years team. Crowell was the only returning player to get significant playing time last year and seniors Cole Zaffiro, Busch and Dunphy stepped up in a big way during their final season as Indians.
“We were under the radar all year, nobody gave us much chance,” Bruns said. “Rebuilding year, you lost all your starters. But we scrimmage for a half-hour every day and I knew what I had there. The question was whether we would be able to overcome the lack of real-game experience.”
The Indians will look to rebuild once more, and they return a core of Crowell and brothers Liam and Rory Connor.
“It stings now and it hurts, but we had a pretty productive year,” Bruns said. “They work, they got better every day. That makes it fun to coach. I’m very pleased with them.”