With its nine-point halftime lead reduced to the slimmest of margins in the final minute of the third quarter of Tuesday night’s Nassau Class A boys’ basketball semifinal, South Side found another gear against a familiar foe.
Seniors Josh Garelle and Chris Vanco drained clutch three-pointers, with the latter just beating the buzzer, to reenergize the second-seeded Cyclones and they pulled away for a 49-35 victory over No. 3 Elmont at Farmingdale State College.
“It got a little too close for comfort, but those back-to-back threes were big and gave us back the momentum,” said Garelle, who had 14 points. “We knew it was going to be a tough game because we know how hard it is to beat a team three times.”
South Side, which knocked off Elmont twice during the regular season on the way to capturing the Conference A2 title, won its 22nd consecutive game and advanced to face top-seeded Manhasset, the defending New York State Class A champions, in the county final on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Hofstra University.
Senior Robert Pericolosi scored a game-high 15 points and senior James Murphy added 14 for the Cyclones, who will look to avenge last year’s semifinal playoff defeat to the Indians. Elmont was led by junior Cassius Moore’s 13 points, all of which came after halftime.
“We knew Elmont would be a tough out and credit to them for how they fought back,” South Side head coach Jerry D’Angelo said. “I loved how well we defended in the first half and held them to 12 points, but we were too stationary on offense and didn’t really take advantage of the college-size court.
“We were able to create more space in the second half and took advantage of certain mismatches and hit our free throws,” he added.
Pericolosi scored nine of the last 11 points of a fast-paced opening quarter to help the Cyclones build a 13-7 advantage. It was 21-12 at intermission after Murphy beat the buzzer with a layup.
“South Side’s an incredible team that plays well together and executes well,” Elmont head coach Ryan Straub said. “I thought we played just as tough and left it all on the floor. Our shots weren’t falling in the first half and we weren’t able to penetrate as well as we like, but we put up a good fight.”
Moore, who helped lead the Spartans to playoff victories over Calhoun and Sewanhaka, was held off the scoresheet in the first half but was the biggest reason they made South Side sweat in the third quarter. He scored 11 points in the frame and brought Elmont to within 26-25 with 1:47 remaining before the Cyclones answered back.
“We definitely weren’t overconfident just because we beat them twice before,” said Murphy, who had nine points in the fourth quarter including a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 42-29 with just over three minutes remaining.
South Side’s last county championship came in the 2011-12 season.
“Manhasset is excellent,” D’Angelo said. “They’re as good as advertised, but we’re pretty good too.”