After Sunday afternoon's Class AA state championship boys basketball game, victorious Mount Vernon posed for a photo, with there possibly being more happy, proud fans crowding on the court to snap a photo as there were happy, proud players and coaches smiling and saying cheese.
At the other end of the Glens Falls Civic Center court was the team on the other side of the result, a smaller and quieter group which posed with the smaller runner-up trophy. The picture, coach and athletic director Ben Drake said, will soon be hanging up in the school.
When players come back to Jamestown in the years to come, junior Adam Cecchini can point at the picture and talk about the two alley-oop passes he threw to classmate Jaysean Paige during Jamestown's first trip to the final four. Senior Darin Butts can talk about scoring two baskets and having two assists as the Red Raiders opened the game with an 11-3 lead. Senior Joey Campion will be able to talk about taking on the press of vaunted Mount Vernon, and about how Jamestown gave it the best shot it could against the winningest program in the history of boys basketball in New York State.
Mount Vernon's superior talent and depth eventually overcame a great start by Jamestown as the Knights won a record ninth state title with a 62-51 victory. Tournament MVP Jabari Hinds showed several reasons why he was the co-recipient of the state's Mr. Basketball award with 26 points, five assists and four steals as Mount Vernon (21-5) used a 16-8 third quarter to fend off Jamestown (20-4) and break a tie with Long Island small school Bridgehampton for most New York State Public High School Athletic Association titles.
"We got off to a great start, but they're just a talented team," said Drake. "I know the kids feel bad about it right now, but once this sinks in we can look back and there's a lot to be proud of."
Mount Vernon had nine players see the court, including eight who scored, one day after 11 of 12 players scored in a semifinal victory over Half Hollow Hills West of Long Island. Its full-court pressure caused many of Jamestown's 20 turnovers (Mount Vernon had nine), its big bodies (three players 6-foot-5 or taller) matched Jamestown on the boards, and when Hinds wasn't orchestrating things, 5-9 senior Khalid Samuels was knocking down shots from the outside (17 points, two three-pointers).
"It's a little more disappointing realizing that we could have won if we had hung in there a little longer," said Campion, who had 10 points and seven rebounds. "We played a great game. We proved that we did belong there with the best teams in New York State in Class AA."
The Knights' talent on offense helped Butts (six points, eight assists) pick up two fouls in the first quarter while Paige picked up his second early in the second, but Jamestown was able to answer. When Paige stole an outlet pass and hit a three-pointer, Jamestown had a 14-5 lead and the Red Raider fans in the crowd of about 2,000 were on their feet. Mount Vernon never called a timeout, it just turned up the pressure and used a 13-2 run to take its first lead (18-16).
The quarter ended 18-18 and Jamestown withstood the pressure enough to trade baskets with Mount Vernon in the second. The highlight of the second was a fast break in which Paige took off in the lane and soared to a powerful one-handed jam to give Jamestown a 24-22 lead. Hinds hit a buzzer-beating jumper from the left side to give Mount Vernon a 33-30 lead at halftime.
Even as Mount Vernon closed the third with a 10-4 run to go up, 47-38, the Red Raiders didn't go quietly. Cecchini lobbed a ball across from the left side for a powerful alley-oop finish by Paige, a very similar play to the pivotal one the pair combined on in overtime of Jamestown's semifinal victory over defending state champion Christian Brothers Academy of Albany.
A 10-3 run to start the fourth quarter pushed the lead to 16 (57-41) with 3:22 left and only then did Mount Vernon slow its pace to use more clock as the clock wound down on Jamestown's trip to the finals. Jamestown is just the 10th Section VI team to make the championship game in the largest classification at Glens Falls, which has been hosting the state tournament since 1981.
"I thought we had them, but we just fell short," said Paige, who finished with 21 points and joined Butts on the all-tournament team. "Hopefully we can come back next year, play even harder and win a state championship."