Western New York's high school basketball team of the future has arrived earlier than expected.
With three sophomores and two juniors in the starting lineup and just one senior among its eight-man rotation, Turner/Carroll was thought to be at least a year away from contending for a state championship.
The Chargers showed Saturday that their time is now with a stunning 91-72 victory over Salesian, the state's top ranked team, in the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association's Class C championship game.
Junior guard Leonard Stokes scored 33 points, sophomore guard KaRon Barnes added 20 points and six assists and junior center Quadir Habeeb had 17 points and 16 rebounds to lead Turner/Carroll (16-9) to the state Federation final next Saturday in Glens Falls.
It will be the team's first appearance there since 1990. Turner/Carroll captured consecutive overall state Class C titles in 1988 and 1989.
"We've shown signs of being a very good team throughout the year," said Chargers coach Fajri Ansari. "I think the quality of our league (Msgr. Martin Assn.) helped us get prepared for this. I told the guys the team we're playing is going to be good, they're defending state champs and have been here before. But I didn't think they were much better than the teams we've played.
"It's been a season of highs and lows, which usually happens with a young team. I just hope we can keep this going one more weekend."
Turner/Carroll, which struggled to beat St. Mary's of Lancaster just to get here, was at its best Saturday. The 13th-ranked Chargers looked so good, they left many among the estimated 300 spectators in Binghamton High School wondering how they lost nine games.
"They are a lot better than their record, that's for sure," said Salesian coach Jerry Power, whose team beat St. Francis en route to the overall state crown last year. "We knew they were quick and athletic but we weren't prepared for how quick and athletic they were."
Salesian (23-2) had no answer for Stokes, a gifted 6-foot-5 guard with marvelous ball-handling skills. He beat defenders at will.
Stokes was held without a field goal in the first quarter, but picked up the pace with 12 points in the second to help the Chargers gain the lead for good. He added 13 more in the fourth to stifle Salesian's comeback attempts.
"The Stokes kid is as good a player as we've faced this year," Power said. "He's a Division I player."
"I was very focused today," said Stokes, who added five rebounds, five steals, four assists and three blocked shots. "But it wasn't just me, the whole team came out ready to play. We played very well as a team and when we do that, we're tough to stop."
It was Salesian center Jared Johnson who was unstopable early. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound senior scored 12 of his team-high 24 points in the first quarter to give the New Rochelle school a 24-13 lead.
However, Johnson wasn't nearly as effective the rest of the day, as the 6-foot-7 1/2 , 240-pound Habeeb began to dominate the interior, and Salesian's perimeter people struggled against Turner/Carroll's aggressive defense.
"Coach Ansari stressed all week that defense would be important today," said Barnes. "We came out and played aggressively and forced them into mistakes."
Another key for Turner/Carroll was getting Salesian's top players into foul trouble. When forward Lamont Clanton (14 points) -- the Eagles' best all-around player -- went to the bench with three fouls, Stokes ignited a 15-0 run in the second period to put the Chargers up, 36-29.
Sophomore Julius Page added 13 points for the Chargers, whose win puts Ansari in a predicament. He was supposed to be in his brother's wedding next Saturday.
"We don't get to the states too often, and this is his second go around at the altar, so maybe he'll understand," Ansari cracked.