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Middle Early College beats the champ, will play for Class C state title Sunday

BINGHAMTON — Jamond Jones conceded he was feeling nervous.

It’s only natural because Saturday's New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class C semifinal served as the biggest of the Middle Early College junior’s scholastic career, at least to that point.

The Kats might be in favor of their point guard feeling the same way again Sunday.

Jones scored eight of his game-high 23 points during the game’s decisive run as Middle Early College received contributions from many in defeating defending state champion Lake George, 80-63, at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena to snap the Section II champion's 54-game winning streak, which was the longest active run in the state.

Devonte Prince added 18 points, while Keyunte Jones poured in 17 for the Kats (22-5), who used a late 14-0 run with 5 minutes left to seize control for good.

“I knew that coming into this game that we’d have a chance to take out the team with the longest winning streak in New York state,” Jones said. “(We) just tried (our) best to end it, and that’s what we did."

“First of all, to beat them and end their winning streak is really exciting,” second-year Kats coach James Kane said. “We always said, March 17 we wanted to be playing basketball. We ended up reaching our goal and now it’s time to complete the goal.”

Middle College will face Section III champion Cooperstown for the state title at noon Sunday.

Cooperstown won a triple-overtime thriller against Section XI's Greenport, 108-98, behind Jack Lambert’s 53 points.

Jones, the Kats’ leading scorer throughout the season, came up huge during this nip-and-tuck game – displaying his playmaking and scoring skills. He had four of his seven assists in the first half.

Jones finished 9-of-18 shooting for the game, taking nine shots each half.

Still, he appeared to be looking to shoot more than set up with the game on the line.

“He’s been great for us all season,” Kane said. “He really gets the tempo flowing for us. ... He’s a high-end player so we expect that from him.”

Prince drained 3-of-4 threes and had 11 points as MEC erased an early eight-point deficit to take a one-point lead into halftime.

Middle College also led by one through three quarters (51-50), as staying close proved to be a key part of the plan along with wearing down Warriors big man Chris Becker.

A 6-foot-6, 240-pound monster in the paint, Becker often overpowered the Kats inside early. He finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.

But they got to him and his teammates, as it showed during the key run after Lake George (26-1) tied the game at 57 on Alex Leonelli’s long three-pointer.

Ja’Kari Nettles (nine points, 10 rebounds) gave Middle College the lead for good on a putback with 4:19 left. After two free throws from Keith Brown, a steal and nifty layup by Jones in which he avoided a potential charge made it 63-57 in a span of 23 seconds.

Then Nettles, who was two inches shorter and perhaps 50 pounds lighter than Becker, delivered the momentum-turning blocks as he swatted back-to-back close-in shot attempts to extend the run.

Jones then followed with two more baskets. He then rewarded Nettles in transition after a steal by Traemelle Stevens-Richardson, feeding his big man for a monster jam that pushed the lead to 12 with 1:40 left.

“Our big man hitting him with two stops really changed the momentum of the game,” Jones said of Nettles’ blocks.

While different players have led the Kats in scoring during their playoff run, Jones looked to shoot a bit more for a simple reason.

“I feel if I get up enough shots, they’ll start falling,” he said. “Today I was feeling it.”

Jones, who also had six steals, wasn’t the only Middle College player feeling it as the team shot 50 percent, including 45.5 from beyond the arc.

“Their shooting was phenomenal,” said Lake George coach  Blake White, a Sweet Home alumnus. “They shot great and then the defensive pressure they put on us in the last quarter kind of got to us.

“We’ve been here three year in a row. ... It wasn’t our day, but it’s been quite a run.”

Can Middle College finish what it started?

“This is my first time playing in a game like this,” Jones said. “It’s the biggest game of my life. I  just want to be comfortable, get going early and give our school a chance.”

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