The state basketball trophy has a shiny, golden plate on an impressive wooden plaque shaped like New York State. Sweet Home's victories, on the other hand, are not nearly as lovely.
The Panthers, who don't mind admitting that their wins aren't the prettiest things on a basketball court, today will play for the ultimate object of a high school player's eye.
Sweet Home didn't shoot the lights out and missed a lot of free throws, but it played its trademark tough defense and, like it says on the Panthers' T-shirts and banners, they "believe." As it has done throughout this storybook postseason, Sweet Home (21-5) did just enough to stay ahead of Jericho in a 53-46 victory Saturday morning before an estimated 3,000 at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
"We've kind of coined the phrase 'winning ugly' ," said Sweet Home coach Paul Schintzius, whose team shot 15 of 47 (31.9 percent), including 6 of 21 on three-pointers, but held Jericho to 18-of-54 shooting (33.3 percent). "Our defense has been what's carried us."
Senior guard Quentin Hudson led the Panthers with 18 points while junior forward Glenroy Carr had 14 points, nine rebounds and was 6 of 9 at the free-throw line. The Panthers aim for their first state title since 1984 -- a team Schintzius played on -- today at 1 p.m. when they meet defending champion Peekskill (25-1) in the public school Class A final.
"It just keeps getting better and better," said Hudson, who was 5 for 17 from the field and 2 of 8 at the line. "We know that the defense is our cornerstone. We don't like winning sloppy games, but we know we can."
The Panthers had a 13-point lead in the third quarter cut to two, and they had a nine-point lead in the fourth twice cut to three. After Sweet Home's lead was cut to 42-39 with 4:36 left, it claimed the game by holding Jericho scoreless for the next 3:14.
The key play was the 6-foot-6 Carr skying for a high rebound of a missed Jericho three-pointer, then emerging from a pack to dribble the length of the floor for a two-handed dunk that put the Panthers up, 45-39, with 2:45 left.
Then Jericho, as it did the entire game, tried to get the ball to standout 6-7 sophomore Matt Cajuste (15 points). But Sweet Home 6-5 senior Daniel Joseph tipped away the entry pass and would add a free throw to push the lead to seven (46-37). Then, Joseph grabbed one of his 10 rebounds after Jericho missed its next shot. The Jayhawks (21-3) could get no closer than three despite Sweet Home going 7 for 15 at the line in the final 2:28.
Sweet Home managed a 13-7 lead after one quarter and was up, 24-15, at the half despite both Carr and Joseph -- who are both battling the flu -- having picked up two fouls in the first quarter trying to defend Cajuste.
Sweet Home led by as much as 28-15 in the third quarter before Jericho cut it to 33-31. Junior Eric Schnirel (five points, six rebounds, four assists) hit a three-pointer to give the Panthers a 36-31 halftime lead. Hudson's four-point play (he was fouled as he hit a three) to open the third put the lead at 40-31.