Kennedy rode into the Nassau Class A boys’ basketball playoffs on the heels of consecutive must-win games that earned it a .500 record in a stacked Conference A-II.
Then on Wednesday afternoon, essentially playing their third elimination game in a week, the battle-tested Cougars relied on senior leaders Marco Travaglione and Brandon Wexler to carry them over local rival Calhoun, 50-48, in an exciting outbracket matchup before a standing-room-only crowd.
Travaglione scored a game-high 24 points and ripped down 18 rebounds, and Wexler scored seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter as No. 19 Kennedy (10-9) advanced to face third-seeded Valley Stream South this Saturday at noon. Junior Malek Graham had 16 points to lead the Colts (10-10), who had a chance to force overtime or win it in regulation on the final possession.
“This is the type of atmosphere and crowd you love to see for high school basketball,” Kennedy head coach Rory Block said. “Two evenly matched teams in a tight game that comes down to the last shot is what it’s all about. We did all we could to hang on.”
Kennedy took a six-point lead into the fourth quarter and led 45-38 with less than four minutes to go before No. 14 Calhoun got back-to-back threes from senior Corey Jones and sophomore Patrick Sanchez to get within a point. However, Wexler, who also had 11 rebounds, provided some breathing room over the next two possessions with a short hook in the lane and a free throw, then added a clutch layup with 1:25 remaining to help the Cougars escape.
“We had our chances,” Calhoun head coach Jay Kreutzberger said. “They had a big second quarter and every time we made a run in the second half, they found a way to answer, especially Marco. You’ve got to give him credit for knocking down all those threes.”
Travaglione drained a season-best seven shots from behind the arc, while senior point guard Christian Palazzotto (five assists) added a pair of treys. Sanchez had nine points, Jones eight, and senior Tom Casimano seven for the hosts.
“Calhoun’s a good team and we knew it was going to be tough to come into this gym and win,” said Travaglione, who boosted his scoring average to 21.2 points per game. “Everyone stepped up.”
Kennedy, which pulled out a 42-21 victory at Sewanhaka in the A-II finale to keep its season alive, never looked back after outscoring the Colts by a 16-8 margin in the second quarter. Juniors Josh Levy and Aidan Heeley, as well as sophomore Tyler Yablon, made significant contributions at both ends of the floor.
The outcome remained in doubt until a driving Jones couldn’t get the final shot attempt to drop.
“It’s a shame we don’t play Kennedy more often,” Kreutzberger said. “The last time we played them a bunch of years ago, the environment was the same. It was great with fans spilling out of the stands. Who doesn’t want to play in front of a crowd like that?”