A new era for the Horace Greeley boys’ basketball program could not have started any better.
Following their first coaching change in a quarter century, the Quakers opened up the 2017-18 season by winning the championship at Lakeland High School’s ninth annual Carolyn Conroy Memorial Basketball Tournament. A 3-point basket by tourney MVP Greg Karr with just under a minute remaining and the score tied lifted Greeley to a 51-47 victory over the host Hornets in the title game on Saturday evening.
“There were a lot of teachable moments from this game that we can use to get better,” said new Quakers head coach Felix Nicodemo shortly after his team had outscored Lakeland 10-4 over the final four minutes to emerge with the tourney title. “One of the main things I saw, a couple different people stepped up tonight. We’re gonna need that every single game because every game’s gonna be a dogfight.”
The lead changed hands five times in the opening quarter and another six times in the fourth before Karr’s 3-pointer from the right elbow with 52.4 seconds left on the clock and the score even at 45 apiece gave Greeley the lead for good. Karr, who finished with a team-high 12 points, added two free throws with 22 seconds to go that stretched the Quakers’ lead to five.
“Yeah, it was a senior who stepped up,” said Nicodemo about the last-minute heroics from Karr. “He knocked down the three and he hit two free throws to make it a five-point lead.”
Karr had been whistled for his fourth foul with half a minute left in the third quarter and just 10 seconds after teammate Ryan Sullivan also picked up his fourth. Moments later, the Hornets’ Chris Foci, who scored all of his team-high 12 points after halftime, made a 3-pointer while being fouled and added the free throw to slice an eight-point Greeley lead in half.
The big play by Foci helped turn the fourth quarter into a wild eight minutes with the lead and momentum changing over and over. For the Quakers, it was quite a contrast from 48 hours earlier when they opened the tournament by getting 17 points and eight rebounds from Karr in a 68-26 thrashing of Bronxville.
“This game was a lot different than the first game we played on Thursday, which is a good thing because we were able to get tested early to see where we’re at,” said Nicodemo, who tried to convince his players they should welcome the late-game pressure. “I said to them in the huddle, ‘This is fun. This is what it’s all about. You don’t want to beat teams by 30 or 40 points. This is where you learn and grow as an individual in terms of what type of basketball player you are.’”
The Quakers had used an 8-0 spurt starting with a Will Lafortezza basket late in the first quarter to build an 18-11 advantage. But the Hornets wound up scoring the final seven points of the half and took a 23-21 lead into the locker room. A 10-2 burst by Greeley that began with a tough layup in traffic by Jeremy Block midway through the third quarter gave the Quakers a 36-28 lead before the 4-point play by Foci changed the complexion of the game.
Junior guard Michael Salore drained a left-corner 3-pointer early in the final period, stretching the Greeley lead to 39-34. Lakeland answered with six straight points and then the lead changed hands five more times over a 90-second stretch before Karr’s big 3-pointer late in the contest. With the Quakers leading 50-47, Sullivan made the second of two foul shots with 6.4 seconds left to all but seal the outcome.
“I think you can learn a lot more from a three-point win, a one-possession game, than a 30- or 40-point win,” said Nicodemo, who most recently coached the White Plains girls’ varsity team. “I’m excited to get back to practice on Monday and continue to get better. I feel like what’s gonna make us successful is playing a team game where different people can step up at any moment. And I think that’s what’ll be difficult for other teams.”
For Nicodemo, whose resume also includes stops at Westlake and North Salem as an assistant boys’ varsity coach, the championship at the Lakeland tourney is one he won’t soon forget.
“Since taking over this position in September, I personally could not have asked for a better start,” he said. “We went undefeated in the fall league, and then to start 2-0 and winning a tournament my first time taking over as head coach, I am ecstatic. I think I have a great group of individuals and I’m excited for the season.”