Baldwin didn’t return a single starter from last season’s Long Island Class AA boys’ basketball championship team, but its strength-in-numbers, unselfishness and relentless defense led it to a second straight Nassau title, marking the first back-to-back county crowns in school history.
Yet the Bruins were considered underdogs in last Saturday night’s L.I. Class AA title game at Hofstra against Suffolk representative Northport, which featured 6-foot-9 center Luke Petrasek and standout point guard Matt Smith. Baldwin’s task was greatly compromised less than two minutes after the opening tip when its most experienced player, senior forward Jordan Williams, went down under the Tigers’ basket after a driving layup attempt.
Baldwin’s top reserve last season and its biggest frontcourt presence this season, Williams suffered a dislocated kneecap and torn ligament, and after a 25-minute delay was taken by ambulance to Nassau University Medial Center in East Meadow. It was a devastating blow, but if any team was prepared to handle such a loss it was coach Darius Burton’s.
“I was distraught myself and concerned with how the kids were going to deal with it mentally more than anything else,” Burton said. “You never know how a team is going to handle adversity, but these kids believed in themselves and each other.”
Teams were given a three-minute warmup period before play resumed with 6:21 remaining in the first quarter, and the depth of the Bruins showed immediately. They were never out of a game they lost, 43-40, essentially on Northport’s Mike Milligan’s three-point play with 52 seconds left.
Junior Dan Nwalor replaced Williams, who averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds per game, and promptly sank a pair of free throws for the team’s first points. Nwalor also knocked down a field goal midway through the quarter as part of a 14-point opening half for Burton’s bench. Junior MiKing Richardson had six points off the bench and
senior Oluwa Bembury added four as Baldwin held a 24-22 halftime lead.
“I think it was the best-case scenario,” Burton said of weathering the early injury and leading at intermission. “We hadn’t lost all season after leading at halftime. All three
losses we had before this we were behind at half.”
Without the offense Williams provided in the paint, the Bruins had to rely on their perimeter shooting. Seniors Travais Hylton (two) and Michael Abrahams combined to sink three treys in the third quarter, but Northport got six points from Petrasek and four apiece from Milligan and Andrew Seaman to take a 36-33 lead into the fourth.
The Tigers matched the game’s biggest lead of four points — 38-34 — early in the fourth before baskets by Bembury and Hylton tied it and senior Elijah McMillan vaulted the Bruins in front with a bucket with 2:48 to go.
Baldwin was that close to overcoming increased odds and getting to Glens Falls.
“We wanted to win it for Jordan, and we gave it our best shot,” Burton said.