Baldwin couldn’t have scripted a better start to last Saturday’s Long Island Class AA boys’ basketball championship game.
The Bruins scored on five of their first six possessions, forced four Brentwood turnovers and opened a 10-point lead.
The Indians, however, didn’t panic against an opponent that beat them by 21 points in mid-January and not only recovered but stormed back for a 62-53 victory over the three-time defending Nassau County champions at Stony Brook University’s Island Federal Arena.
Brentwood pulled even by the end of the first quarter, led 30-27 at halftime and shifted into another gear by scoring the first dozen points of the second half. Baldwin (21-3) got within eight with 3:33 remaining but was unable to pose a serious threat down the stretch.
“They beat us in areas we talked about all week leading up to the game,” Bruins head coach Darius Burton said. “We allowed them too many second and third chances on the boards and they beat us down the floor in transition. “We brought the energy, but didn’t sustain it.”
Brentwood (19-7) won its seventh Long Island championship and takes an eight-game winning streak to the state tournament where it’ll play a semifinal on Friday afternoon in Glens Falls.
The Indians had four double-digit scorers that led them to flip the switch on Baldwin: Marquese Dennis finished with a game-high 15 points — 13 in the second half — Freddy Diogene had 14, and Jeremiah Webb and Tyrell Davender added 13 points apiece.
Senior Dylan Madden scored 13 points, senior Jaylen Brown 11 and eighth-grader Peyton Howell and senior Joshua Petion both chipped in nine for Baldwin, which a week earlier won its third consecutive Nassau AA crown by defeating Port Washington, 45-39.
“It’s disappointing to lose, but we have nothing to be ashamed of,” Burton said. “We had 13 first-year players and the seniors went 43-5 over the past two seasons.”
Down 12-2 after the Bruins pounced out of the gate, Diogene and Tyrell Davender each scored six points as Brentwood climbed back to tie it at 18 at the end of the first quarter. They each had a pair of baskets in the 12-point spurt to start the second half and the lead swelled to 42-27 by the midway mark of the third quarter.
“Baldwin is explosive and we needed to get by that early burst,” noted Brentwood head coach Anthony Jimenez.
Brown and sophomore Chase Timberlake scored four points apiece late in the third quarter and the Bruins were within single digits, trailing 44-35 heading into the fourth. Trading baskets in the final stanza, however, wasn’t going to cut it.
“We made a few runs, but when you fall behind by 15 you need to make bigger runs than we did,” Burton said. “We scored six straight and four straight, but each time we got a little momentum they were able to stop the bleeding. They’re a hot team right now.”
Dennis, who was held to just two points in the first half, opened the fourth quarter with a trey and the margin stayed at double digits until Howell’s trey cut Baldwin’s deficit to 55-47.
But that would be as close as the Bruins could get in crunch time.
Brown and Petion earned All-County honors; Madden, Howell, Timberlake and sophomore Jalen Waters were All-Conference selections.