Sitting on the balcony of the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, in Honolulu, while enjoying my first two-week vacation in many years, I noticed on my laptop that the White Plains Tigers dealt Ketchum High School a decisive blow in the First Round of the Section 1 AA Boy’s Basketball Playoffs.
The number three seeded Tigers beat the number 14th seeded Indians by 24 points, 59-35. Tigers’ standout freshman Jordan Tucker scored 19 points and star guard senior Mike DeMello had 15 points in the win.
Before leaving for a warmer climate, I mentioned to White Plains Head Coach Spencer Mayfield that I would be back to cover his team in the second round of the Section 1 Playoffs. Mayfield immediately replied to me, “I have to make it past the first round first.”
Although, understanding to never overlook an opponent, my mindset remained no matter who the third seeded Tigers faced in the first round, considering their quality of play this season, they would advance to the Quarterfinals. White Plains compiled an impressive, 15-3 regular season record this year.
However, the Quarterfinals presented a much different challenge for White Plains, than the 14th seeded Ketchum Indians did in the first round. The sixth seeded Spring Valley High School Tigers brought two tall muscle men across the river positioned in the front court, in Kai Mitchell and Jordan Duncan, who both measure six feet and five inches. They also traveled to town with speedy Ricky McGill at guard.
Nonetheless, the White Plains Tigers broke out of the gate in the first half with their own brand of speed and muscle in the Harry Jefferson Gym.
The speedy DeMello dribbled past Spring Valley defenders and dropped 12 first- half points. Tucker with his sleek gazelle type play roamed every part of the court and scored 10 points, including three shots from behind the arc.
Tigers’ forwards Justin Tapper and Rexler Noel played beyond expectations in the front-court battling Spring Valley’s big men Mitchell and Duncan for rebounds, while creating second chance points on offense. Even feisty senior Chris Jordan came off the bench for the Tigers to score six first-quarter points, while shooting four-for-four from the foul line.
The Tigers thrilled their fans packed into the Harry Jefferson Gym in the first half and went into the locker room leading 41-30, ahead by 11 points.
But the Tigers from across the Hudson River came out a different team in the second half. Spring Valley used their big men in a very aggressive manner and attacked the paint. They also utilized their speed on both offense and defense and disrupted White Plains’ game plan.
Spring Valley’s aggressiveness created confusion in the White Plains Tigers offense and the home team began fumbling away the ball. Spring Valley used Duncan, Mitchell and guard Jarmar Joseph in the high-post trap, which kept DeMello and Tucker at bay. “In the first-half we were beating them. I guess whatever their coached said to them at halftime woke them up and they came out and punched us in the mouth in the third quarter,” commented Tucker.
When the third quarter ended the score had turned in Spring Valley’s favor 53-45. The Tigers from across the river had outscored the hometown Tigers, 23-4 in the third quarter. “I got on my knees and prayed (at halftime),” jested Spring Valley Head Coach Willie Worsley, regarding his teams’ third quarter surge. “Really, what I did was refer to my basketball religion, if we are going to lose, let’s lose fighting. If we are going to lose let’s lose our way,” stated Worsley.
The Tigers fought back on their home court behind Tucker’s seven fourth-quarter points. DeMello assisted Noel, who hit a timely bucket and White Plains was back in the lead, 66-65, with 1:20 remaining in the game.
Noel stepped up again and made a huge block to get the ball back and Mayfield called timeout. With the crowd in frenzy, on the ensuing play Spring Valley brought Mitchell out from the post to join McGill and they trapped DeMello, who turned the ball over on the sideline near half-court.
McGill who went three-for-three from the foul in the game made two essential free throws with 36.7 seconds left on the clock to put Spring Valley in the lead 67-66.
Spring Valley played the fourth quarter like Tigers, as did the Tigers from White Plains. But it was their lack of offense in the third quarter that sealed the home teams’ fate, as 24-3 will remain in the White Plain Tigers memories for sometime. “They pounded us inside and got some transition baskets. We just could not score and took a few ill-advised shots. It was more Duncan and McGill who pounded us inside in that quarter and got second chance points,” stated Mayfield.
When the ball was deflected by Spring Valley on the Tigers last possession and Jordan missed a jumper at the top of the key, Mitchell was there for the rebound. He threw an outlet pass to McGill, who scored his 18th point. Spring Valley 69, White Plains 66. “They [White Plains] went down fighting until the end. It was a good victory for us because of who we played,” admired Worsley.
The White Plains Tigers end the year 16-4, as did the Spring Valley Tigers. The only difference is that Spring Valley advances to play in the Semifinals of the Section 1 Playoffs, against number two seed Clarkstown South, on Thursday, at 6:30 p.m. at the Westchester County Center.