At a stroke the Baldwin boys’ basketball team passed its first real Conference AA-2 test and avenged all of last season’s losses. But the Bruins weren’t keen to take a victory lap.
In a matchup many observers felt was fraught with implications, Baldwin downed visiting league rival Port Washington 57-45 on Jan. 4, representing a triumph of the league’s top offense over its No. 1 defense. The Vikings had been kryptonite to Baldwin’s supercharged lineup last winter, dishing out two defeats to blemish the repeating AA-2 champion Bruins’ 18-2 campaign, which ended with a 45-39 loss to the Vikings in the county semifinals.
Baldwin head coach Darius Burton – whose team moved to 3-0 in league, 6-1 overall, with a 76-44 league road win against East Meadow on Jan. 9 – dismissed any notions of payback as a motivating factor, stating the Bruins instead believe in having a short memory.
“Fans wanted to use the rivalry [with Port Washington] as fuel, but we just saw it as another game,” Burton said. “Last year was last year. We just wanted to handle business in our first league game at home.”
Despite losing two All-County players to graduation, Baldwin rolled 31-0 this past summer, collecting three summer league titles. The juggernaut screeched to a halt in the Bruins’ regular-season opener, a hard-fought 64-58 loss to Newburgh Free Academy Dec. 7. Directly after the early stumble Baldwin began its current win streak, beating its past six opponents by an average margin of 14 points.
“We try to have a tough non-league schedule, to prepare us for February and March,” Burton said. “We let one game get away from us, but didn’t dwell on it. We got better. It’s early and we’re still getting better, still trying to jell.”
Seniors Isiah Walker and Kamani Jones have made good on leadership commitments as Baldwin’s only returning starters. Walker, an All-Conference forward, is posting just over 10 points per game while averaging close to 10 rebounds. Jones, a second-year guard who buried a season-high six 3-pointers en route to a game-high 21 points against Port Washington, leads Baldwin with 14 points per contest.
“Isiah’s doing what he does,” Burton said. “He scores, gets charges. He plays great defense. Kamani has really been locked-in. When he gets hot he doesn’t miss.”
Breaking out as a first-year shooting guard, senior Lance Henry (13.3 ppg) is the Bruins’ second-leading scorer. “Lance is one of our kids who can shoot,” Burton said. “We’ve been blessed with shooters; that’s a strength we’re taking advantage of.”
Along with AA-2’s highest-scoring offense (64 ppg), Baldwin has the conference’s second-ranked defense (49.4 ppg allowed.) “Our offense comes from our defense,” Burton said. “We pressure the ball, get turnovers, make threes. And with our shooters, there’s no one guy that other teams can focus on. We’re hard to prepare for.”
Burton continued: “We just wear teams down and go on our little runs. That’s what we plan to keep doing. Just handle our business every game.”