GLENS FALLS – It was a gamble, but some risks are worth taking especially when a sweet reward is within reach.
Cardinal O’Hara boys basketball couldn’t be happier with Justin Hemphill’s decision to go for it.
Hemphill’s late shot block was among the many key fourth-quarter plays made by the Hawks, who rallied from a five-point deficit to earn a 48-46 comeback win over Alliance of Independent Schools champion Lawrence Woodmere Academy (L.I.) on Saturday afternoon in Cool Insuring Arena in a New York State Federation Tournament of Champions Class B boys basketball semifinal.
An estimated 2,000 watched as Hemphill raced from just past center court toward the Hawks basket determined to make amends. Hemphill turned the ball over with a predictable, lazy pass. That led to Marist-commit Tyler St. Furcy having a breakaway chance to trim a 45-42 lead. Hemphill with four fouls had to decide between trying to contest a shot, risking potentially commiting his disqualifying fifth foul, or just yield the points?
With 1 minute, 46 seconds left where points were tough to come by, the decision was simple.
“After I made that pass I had to get back,” said Hemphill, who finished with 12 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two blocks while sitting at times due to foul trouble. “I met him at the basket. I was just praying it’s not a foul.”
It was a clean block as Hemphill got both hands on the ball.
“Chase-down blocks are something I like to do,” the 6-foot-4 Hemphill said.
“I think it was the game-saving block,” O’Hara coach Tony Pulvirenti said.
“That’s just heart, playing hard and wanting to win, no matter what,” Hawks senior Haakim Siner said.
As a result, Cardinal O’Hara (26-1) earned the right to play in the final game of the entire basketball season in the state at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Of course, there won’t be too many folks here rooting for the Hawks, as hometown state public schools champion Glens Falls advanced to the Federation final by beating PSAL champion South Bronx, 77-70, in overtime behind a 42-point effort from Syracuse-commit and New York State Mr. Basketball Joe Girard III.
Before Glens Falls played a thriller before a sellout crowd, O’Hara and Lawrence Woodmere rumbled in a tight one in which the scrappy Hawks proved to be more than up to the task in dealing with LWA’s height advantage.
St. Furcy finished with 18 points for LWA (22-5), but O’Hara turned 6-foot-10 Louisville commit Aidan Igiehon (23.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg) into a non-factor. Hemphill and Jaedin Cottman along with switching defenses left him somewhat flustered. Igiehon fouled out with five points and five rebounds with just three shot attempts. He had 14 points and 17 rebounds in his previous start.
“We had strategy on man to man and help side defense and then we went zone in the second half and did an even better job of keeping him away from the basket and getting him in foul trouble,” Pulvirenti said.
Still, O’Hara trailed 22-16 at halftime and 35-30 through three quarters. It was the second straight game the Hawks stared at deficits in a win or go home situation.
They’re still alive and flying.
The New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Assocation champion Hawks scored 12 of the game’s next 15 points to seize the lead for good. Consecutive traditional three-point plays by Siner (17 points, six rebounds) and Jermaine Haynes Jr. (12 points, two steals) and two free throws from Hemphill made it 38-35 O’Hara with 5:30 left. Larry Rhabb drained a three to tie the game for the last time. Hemphill followed with a tip-in putback.
Siner drained a three from the corner to make it 45-41 with 3:42 left. The teams then combined to make just one field goal the rest of the way, with O’Hara making three 3 of 4 free throws.
The Hawks then made just enough baskets and got the stops they needed to advance to their first final since winning the Federation title in 1994.
Including what simply will be known in O’Hara circles as the block by Hemphill.
“That’s not going to show up on the score sheet,” Pulvirenti said. “He took a chance but big-time players take big-time chances.”