International Prep at Grover Cleveland had a chance at a state championship this weekend, but that shot -- and many others -- didn't fall for the Presidents on Friday evening.
I-Prep surged in the fourth quarter to force overtime, but the poor-shooting Presidents fell to Friends Academy, 53-48, in the Class C state semifinals.
An estimated 500 at the Glens Falls Civic Center saw I-Prep shoot 31 percent for the game (18 of 58), hitting only 4-of-26 shots from three-point range. Section VIII (Nassau County) representative Friends Academy, a private school from Locust Valley, L.I., won the overtime, 10-5, and will play Section III champion Syracuse Academy of Science (22-2) at 7:15 p.m. today for the state championship.
I-Prep (19-4), ranked first in the state Class C poll the last two weeks and the No. 1 team in The News' small school poll all season, was an effective three-point shooting team all year. However, in Friday's slow-paced game, several Presidents struggled as they often settled for NBA-range threes against a zone defense: Senior Kenny Pringle had 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting, including 3-of-13 threes; senior Chris Holland had 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting and was 0 for 5 from three-point range; junior Christian Cheatom had nine points on 3-of-12 shooting, and hit 1-of-5 threes.
"Friends Academy had low-scoring games all year," said I-Prep first-year coach Shaun Ryan. "We wanted to get up and play man-to-man and make sure the pace stayed up, but they managed to really keep it down -- because we didn't hit shots. You've got to hit shots to make them take the ball out of the basket for us to get them full court. When you don't hit shots, you can't do that."
The Quakers (16-4) held a modest lead most of the game before I-Prep surged back in a 16-8 fourth quarter behind 6-5 senior Kadeem Hillman. Hillman -- who had two points and was only 1 of 4 from the field -- delivered a tremendous two-handed dunk (his only basket of the game) and also had three big blocks over the final quarter and overtime.
"We talked throughout the week about making sure we get it inside, but the zone was definitely packed in tight," said Ryan. "Eventually we got to him and he played great at the end with some big blocks and that dunk really sparked us."
Friends led, 35-27, entering the fourth. It would lead by as many as 10 (37-27) and was up, 39-30, with less than six minutes to play before the Presidents went on a 13-4 run to end regulation. The rally included two traditional three-point plays by Holland, the dunk and a block by Hillman and Cheatom's two game-tying free throws with 39.7 seconds left that would ultimately send the game to overtime at 43-43.
Friends ran patient half-court sets and got balanced scoring from T.J. Hefele (13 points), Tommy Costa (13), Marc Godlis (10) and Kellen Sehring (10). The Quakers shot 38.4 percent for the game (20 of 52) but were 6 of 15 from three-point range.
A three-pointer by Costa was the first basket of overtime and gave the Quakers the lead for good. Two free throws by Sehring and an easy basket by Costa off an inbound play put Friends up, 50-45, in the final minute of overtime. It was never a one-possession game the rest of the way, with I-Prep coming closest at 52-48 with 16.8 seconds left.
"They just battled," Ryan said. "We got down 10 with five minutes to go and they still worked and worked and they didn't give up on it. And as a coach you can't ask for more than that. I'm so proud of these guys. They're amazing. Those four seniors [Holland, Pringle, Hillman and Dartwon Brooks], I'm going to work for them as much as I can to get them to the next level and find a school that fits them -- they were fantastic."
Bazzani to enter Hall
Former Niagara Falls coach Dan Bazzani is being inducted into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame by the Basketball Coaches Association of New York on Sunday. Bazzani, a former UB player who would go on to coach the Bulls as well as Niagara County Community College, is one of 11 coaches in the Class of 2011.
Bazzani, also a member of the 2009 class of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, went 144-12 in six seasons at Niagara Falls after the merger of old Niagara Falls and LaSalle high schools. He led the Wolverines to three state title games and the 2005 state Federation championship. He was named the state coach of the year as well as the USA Today national coach of the year in 2005 while the Wolverines were ranked No. 1 in some national polls.