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East beats the champs, captures state Class D title in overtime

BINGHAMTON – If longtime baseball play-by-play-voice John Sterling had been at the mic to wrap up the conclusion of Saturday night's East Panthers triumph, the words escaping his lips might have sounded a little bit like this.

New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association boys' basketball tournament: over.

Moriah's 45-game winning streak: over.

The East Panthers are state champions, the East Panthers are state champions!

The Panthers are indeed the best team in Class D in all of New York.

The tiny Buffalo Public School did it by dethroning defending champion Moriah, 74-61, in overtime before an estimated 1,200 at the Floyd L. Maines Arena.

East (20-6) did it by forgetting how it failed to finish off a comeback win in the fourth quarter – yielding the game-tying basket with 2 seconds left – and focusing on defense and crashing the boards after that. The Panthers scored the first 14 points of the 4-minute overtime after the teams played to a 59-59 draw through regulation.

Whether it was senior Xavier Turner's hustle to keep possessions alive, classmates Willard Anderson or Justin Allen hitting key baskets or sophomore Danny Carter scoring the points that gave his side the lead for good – it took a total team effort for East to capture the school's first NYSPHSAA championship.

"It's the best feeling ever," said tournament MVP Anderson, who recorded 25 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. "I've never felt like this ever in my whole life. I wouldn't want to do it with any other group of guys that I did it with. I love my teammates."

Allen added 23 points and 18 rebounds for the Panthers, who handed Moriah (25-1) its first loss since Dec. 12, 2016 (75-62 at Ticonderoga).

East is the first Yale Cup team to win a state title since Middle Early College in 2016. This marks the fourth time in his long coaching career Starling Bryant has guided a team to a state championship.

He led Traditional to three titles and a Federation crown from 1999-2001.

"It feels wonderful," Bryant said. "I always love this atmosphere. I always love to win. Anytime you win a state championship you're blessed. Everyone on this team is blessed and so am I."

The Panthers did it by maintaining their poise even when it seemed like it wouldn't be their day. They had issues slowing down Moriah star Dylan Trombley early. He scored 20 of his game-high 29 during the first half as the Vikings took a 30-29 lead into the intermission. East also had two starters, Waunya Shaw and Jahahd Maryon, riding the bench with three fouls each before halftime.

Maryon scored key baskets before taking a seat and picked up where he left off once he returned during a 12-point performance when the Vikings defense focus was on Anderson. Shaw finished with 10 points for East, which is being phased out this year but will return as rebooted community school that will include the East name.

The Panthers, known for big finishes all season, trailed 49-46 through three quarters. They had Moriah right where they wanted them.

"We never lost faith," Bryant said. "It's a basketball game. You're not going to win every game by 20 or 30 points and beat somebody like that. I was calm and I tried to keep the kids calm because if we get this game in the fourth quarter either up by a couple points or down a couple points I know we're going to make a run with a couple minutes left in the ball game."

East did just that, taking a 51-49 lead on Allen's three, with just over 7 minutes left in the fourth. The Panthers never trailed after that, but still needed to work overtime after they failed to box out Trombley in the closing seconds. He tipped in a putback with 2 seconds left to tie the game.

Instead of worrying about what they had lost, the Panthers went back to work doing what they do best: play defense and rebound. They took the lead for good on a pair of free throws from Carter with 3:44 left in the OT. Anderson followed with a baseline jumper.

The Panthers held the Vikings to no field goals on six shot attempts. They gobbled up seemingly every rebound en route to finishing with a 51-30 advantage. Allen scored seven points, including a 5 for 6 run at the foul line in OT, while Anderson had four points, a steal and a huge block.

"People coming off the bench contributing by getting get clutch rebounds, that was exactly what we needed," Allen said. "People diving on the floor getting loose balls, that's what got us the championship.

"No words can describe it. It's a great feeling."

 

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