Beat Kings Park in Long Island Class A title game
Two more wins. That’s how close the state Class A crown is for Manhasset (24-1). It would be the ultimate hoop trophy in the well-stocked case. The team will be making the trip to the traditional home of the state championship, Glens Falls, next weekend.
Of course, the further you go, the harder the competition. Three years ago, the Indians lost the state semifinal to traditional power Poughkeepsie, 74-63, keeping the game close until the final quarter.
Manhasset will play the winner of Maine-Endwell (Section IV, Binghamton area) versus Poughkeepsie (Section I) regional final. The snowstorm that moved into the area yesterday delayed the game to today. (Addenda: Poughkeepsie won 52-37 and will face Manhasset on Saturday, March 19 at 9 a.m. at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.)
Kings Park came into the title tilt undefeated against schools in its size classification. In fact, the Kingsmen’s only loss came to Suffolk AA titlist Hills East in a makeshift Suffolk championship game days earlier, dropping them to 24-1.
To which Manhasset, paraphrasing the old Shania Twain hit, might have responded, “Well, that don’t impress us,” as it trailed only twice en route to the win.
The Indians avoided the opening-minutes cold spell of the week before against Garden City. They quickly jumped out to an 11-3 lead before the Kingsmen responded with an 8-0 run to knot the game. The guests hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to end the first and a driving layup as the buzzer sounded for the break, cutting what had been a 27-18 Manhasset lead to 27-23.
“They’re a tough group. They counterpunched,” Manhasset coach George Bruns said of Kings Park.
Liam Connor (18 points) was asked about his team’s reaction at halftime after the buzzer-beater, which energized the Kings Park crowd.
“Our coaches told us it’s only one shot. We’re not going to focus on it too much,” Connor replied. “We just focused on the next four minutes of play coming out of the second half. In the third quarter we were able to jump out to a big lead and that was the recipe for the win.”
Liam Buckley, Manhasset’s strong inside player, missed most of the first half after picking up two quick fouls. He helped break open the game late in the third, scoring 12 of his 16 points in the period. After Kings Park got within 38-34, the Indians went on a 10-0 run to open daylight. A highlight was an alley oop pass from Connor to Buckley, who soared to grab the ball and lay it in. Playing “Mr. Outside,” Buckley ended the run with a three-pointer.
The Indians then gave Kings Park a taste of its own medicine, as Connor converted a steal into a bucket as the buzzer sounded to give his team a 54-36 lead at the end of three.
Manhasset led by as many as 22 points in the fourth quarter, but the lead somehow never felt safe; Kings Park had some long range artillery and its trap press had occasional success.
With a little more than a minute left, both coaches put in their subs. Oscar Cellura elicited a roar from the Manhasset student fan section behind the basket by sinking a short corner jumper to close out the scoring.
Mike Notias paced the Indians with 22 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks. Buckley also snared seven boards.
“I knew we had it from the start,” Buckley said. “I think we’ve played harder teams. Garden City, I think, had more talent. We did everything our coaches told us and that’s why we won.”
Connor said, “We knew they were going to be a good team. They were originally undefeated, but they had a tough game against East Hills, so we knew it was going to be a big challenge. We prepared really hard.”
“Did this feel better than the county championship?” he was asked.
“They were both awesome feelings, but I think the feeling of winning this and getting to spend another week with these guys is awesome. It’s more than I could ask for.”
The pandemic-shortened 2021 season gave motivation to the squad.
“We worked together all summer long,” Connor said. “We knew we had a great team and if we stayed with the plan for each game, we knew we had something special here.”
Often, athletes are able to tune out the roar of the crowd. The raucous cheering section of Manhasset students definitely gave a lift to the Indians.
“We’re a high-energy team and feed off the crowd when things are going well,” Connor observed. “And when we get the crowd involved there’s really nothing better than that. It’s high school sports, and I got all my friends in the crowd. It’s the greatest feeling.”
Stu Goldman has been by Bruns’ side as assistant coach for 20 years.
“This is a great group of kids,” he said. “They prepared so well. Everything we asked them to do they did, They were so prepared to play basketball that every single game, every single night it was great and they’re just wonderful to coach.”
The starters/main subs from the championship squad from three years ago, he noted, were all seniors, while this year’s edition had a nice mix of seniors and underclassmen.
“When were you thinking of pulling your hair out today?” he was asked.
“I was pulling my hair out until the coaches put in the substitutes,” he laughed. “Kings Park is a really good team. A really well-coached team. They do everything well. We knew when you’re going to go [up against] a team that went 24-1 you’re going to get a legitimate basketball game.”
Goldman praised Kings Park’s Chris Rube as “one of the great coaches out here. He’s young and he’s into it.”
“We’re going up north!” Bruns exclaimed to his players after the game. “Enjoy your moment, and let’s take another two next week.”
“What worried you about Kings Park?” Bruns was asked.
“First of all, they’re very well-coached,” he replied. “You watch them, you scout them, you get the video. We knew we’d have a tough time. They’ve got size, they could score, they throw a lot of different defenses at you.”
“We were prepared,” he added. “That’s something in life that kids have to realize. Whatever they do, preparation is the key. We prepared in the classroom beautifully, watching videos. They were really student-athletes.”
In all, he had little to be critical of his team’s performance that day.
“In a 32-minute game, we didn’t make too many bad decisions,” he said. “It was a pleasure to watch them play. They do it in practice and there’s no reason not to expect them to do it in a game.”
“Did you expect to reach this point at the beginning of the season?” Bruns was asked.
“I knew we were good. We just played under the radar,” he replied. “When people said, ‘You’re good,’ Coach Stu would say, ‘You know, we’re young, we’re going to be pushed around.’ I just kept my mouth shut.”
In retrospect, he said, the 60-56 loss to the hosts in the Malverne Tournament on Dec. 29 was a silver lining, taking the burden of an undefeated season off his team’s shoulders.
Bruns also had praise for Kings Park coach, noting that Rube had attended his long-running summer basketball camp years ago.
The outcome proved that, for one game at least, Bruns can still impart lessons to his former pupil.