It didn’t look or feel that way early, when Center Moriches raced to a 17-point lead over Malverne two minutes into the second quarter, but the Long Island Class B boys’ basketball championship game/Southeast Regional semifinal before a standing-room-only crowd at Centereach High School on March 10 proved to be a classic.
And four quarters wouldn’t be enough to determine a winner.
The Mules fought back to trail by one at halftime and led by as many as nine in the fourth quarter before Center Moriches responded behind senior guard Ahkee Anderson, who scored 12 points in the last 6:12 of regulation and dominated overtime, leading the Red Devils to a wild 94-40 victory.
Anderson’s three-point play with 2:09 remaining in OT provided the 12th and final lead change of the game as Center Moriches (22-2) moved ahead 89-86. Seven of his game-high 36 points came in overtime, where he also set up a key basket by junior center Jaden Kealey. Nae’jon Ward (18), Kealey (16) and Jordan Falco (13) also scored in double figures for the Red Devils, who repeated as L.I. champs.
“We’ve been a part of some good ones over the years and this game ranks right up there with any of them,” Center Moriches head coach Nick Thomas said. “Give Malverne all the credit in the world. They really brought it and we took their best punch. Like champions do, we gave our best back.”
Junior point guard Michael Warren had a dynamic night for Malverne (16-7) and finished with 27 points. Sophomore big men Trey Robinson (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Deandre Blagrove (17 points, 15 rebounds) were also equal to the task. Seniors Jayden Seraphin and Duane Bernard chipped in nine points apiece. Seraphin forced OT with an acrobatic shot with 11.5 seconds remaining in regulation.
“It’s a tough loss to take but the kids left everything out there,” Malverne associate head coach Walker Aksionoff said. “When you give up 94 points, it’s hard to overcome no matter how well the offense played.”
The Red Devils, who’ve surpassed 100 points five times this season, had the Mules on the ropes early. Center Moriches led 24-12 after the first quarter and scored six of the first seven points of the second for a 30-13 advantage. Malverne just “flipped a switch,” Aksionoff said, following head coach Darrol Lopez’s timeout.
“The last thing we wanted was to let them get a big jump on us,” Aksionoff said. “But we had the kids prepared and they began to execute.”
The Mules closed the quarter on a 23-6 run to get back in the game, trailing by only a point at halftime. Seraphin ignited them with a vicious dunk, and junior James Ackies came off the bench to nail a three-pointer and a free throw.
Warren’s lights-out second half began with a traditional three-point play to give Malverne a 39-37 lead. The Mules scored 28 third-quarter points and held a 64-61 advantage heading into the fourth.
Robinson scored the first two baskets of a wild final quarter. Malverne held its biggest lead at 74-65 after Warren sank a jumper at the top of the key. Anderson, who ranks among Long Island’s top 10 career scorers with more than 2,100 points, then put the Red Devils on his back.
“This was the kind of game you live for,” Thomas said. “I knew Malverne was going to rise to the occasion. It could’ve gone either way. We had kids step up when others were in foul trouble. We also have Ahkee Anderson and nobody else does.”