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Lackawanna one win away from state title Steelers clamp down on Wyandanch, 68-45

Long Island's Wyandanch has been a third-quarter team all season behind explosive scorer Chris Barber.

Lackawanna was the third-quarter team Friday night. And the Steelers are now one win away from being a state championship team.

The Steelers had all five starters in double figures, owned the third quarter by a 22-7 score and shut down Barber in the second half (seven points) to beat Wyandanch, 68-45, before an estimated 1,800 Friday night at the Glens Falls Civic Center.

Lackawanna (25-1) will try to win its first state title since 1979 tonight at 9 when it takes on Section I representative John F. Kennedy (23-3) of Somers in Westchester County.

"It's been a dream for the kids and coaches and we're one step away," said coach Tim Foley. "The kids once again did a great job of executing the game plan. All year long [Wyandanch] said the third quarter was their big quarter. [Barber] didn't have any field goals in the third quarter. Curtis Underwood and Russell Holt did a great job. We didn't think the other guys could beat us, and they didn't."

Senior Lesean Braxton had 17 points and 12 rebounds while junior point guard LeShawn Blackburn had 16 points and eight assists. Junior forward Marcus Rivers had 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists, senior center Steve Kozaczka collected 11 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks, and Russell Holt had 11 points and seven rebounds.

"It's an honor [to play for a state title]," said Braxton. "I'm not going to be happy until I get a ring. We knew if [Barber] couldn't score, they couldn't win."

Barber, a 6-foot junior transfer who has created a buzz throughout Long Island basketball by averaging 27 points per game and putting up 43 for the Section XI (Suffolk County) champion Warriors (19-6) in the Long Island championship, had 15 at halftime as Lackawanna held a 28-25 lead.

With Holt and junior reserve Curtis Underwood chasing Barber around and denying him the ball -- particularly Underwood in the third quarter -- Barber (8 for 20 from the field, 2 for 9 from three-point range) never made an impact in the second half and finished with 22 points. He scored on just two free throws in the third quarter, a layup in the fourth, and a three-point play on a drive after the Lackawanna starters were removed with 2:08 to play.

"He was saying [on the court] I couldn't check him," said Underwood, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound all-Western New York first-team running back in football. "I pointed at the scoreboard. 'I can't check you? You're not scoring. Y'all can't win if you don't score.' And he didn't score, and they didn't win."

It was Barber's lowest second-half point total all season.

"They weren't scared to play physical," Barber said of Lackawanna. "They really played defense."

Steelers went on a 17-2 run to close the third, often times in transition thanks to Barber's troubles, forcing turnovers or missed shots either blocked or altered by the 6-9 Kozaczka.

In the third quarter, Kocaczka had six points and three blocks. Rivers hit a late three-pointer to make it 48-32, and with Wyandanch trying to get the ball to Barber on a last possession, Underwood stole the inbounds pass and Rivers' putback gave the Steelers a 50-32 lead heading to the fourth.

Kennedy earned a trip to the final with a feisty 52-49 win over Section X champion Ogdensburg. It is the third straight appearance in Glens Falls for Kennedy, which won the 2004 public school and Federation titles.

Kennedy is led by senior guards Tyrell Thompson (6-2) and Mike O'Connell (6-1), who both played on the 2004 title team. Thompson had 20 points and 10 rebounds against a taller Ogdensburg team. O'Connell had 12, including a three-pointer with 1:25 left that made the score 48-44.

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

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