Monday, December 30, 2013

DeMello's Defense, Tapper's Hustle Lifts White Plains

Never mind that White Plains was mired in a 9-for-38 first half funk, withering under County Center pressure.

Never mind that Middletown lurched ahead, 32-26, on a potent transition game.

Never mind that the Tigers frustration compounded, as Marlon Adams crunched home an extravagant fast break dunk.

Never mind that shots which dropped in clusters during the semifinal were suddenly rimming out, clanking off the back rim, and sailing short.

As White Plains’ Mike DeMello retreated from a timeout with a minute left in the decisive third quarter, five words and five words only whipped around the senior guard's mind.

“We can’t lose this game,” said DeMello, his thoughts morphing into words.

DeMello’s ensuing actions, ultimately, spoke much louder than words.

 In a period of 20 seconds, that is.

 DeMello pick-pocketed a Middletown guard five feet from halfcourt, racing back to the rim for a zip-quick layup.

 On Middletown’s ensuing possession, DeMello turned in a carbon copy of that play. Another steal created another simple transition layup.

 A crowd quieter than chirping crickets in the first half suddenly ratcheted to ear drum-piercing crescendo.

Then, like a hawk sizing up its fresh prey, DeMello pursued and picked off an inbounds pass.  He drew an immediate foul, knocking back one of two free throws.

DeMello's three-steal, five-point swing kick-started White Plains’ engine of perseverance, propelling the Tigers to a wild 62-47 victory in the Slam Dunk Tournament championship Sunday.

“We’re the home team and this is our home court, we couldn’t lose this game,” said DeMello, who scored 25 points, snared six rebounds, handed out five assists, and had five steals.

“We wanted this win for White Plains. The first half was pretty ugly. We just had to buckle down and do whatever we could to win the game.”

That meant a career night from forward Justin Tapper.

Tapper—rhymes with scrapper—provided augmented manpower upfront.

 The senior finished the night with 20 rebounds, 11 on the offensive end. Tapper's single-game total ties current Vermont forward Brian Voelkel, out of Iona Prep, for third in tournament history.

DeMello bagged Co-MVP honors with freshman shootist Jordan Tucker, who scored 46 points during two games in Westchester County's ultimate proving ground.

The Tigers (5-0) steered a searing County Center pressure cooker, as Tucker drilled a 3-pointer with 6:38 remaining.

DeMello stymied Middletown on the next possession, drawing an offensive foul. On the other end he buried a corner trey as White Plains seized a 42-38 lead.

 The poised Tigers stretched the lead, surging to the championship trophy with it.

“The bigger the game, the bigger he plays,” Mayfield said of DeMello, his ball-hawking 5-foot-10 senior guard.

“He’s a big time player. He makes plays when it matters. He wanted to win tonight and he willed us to win.”

All pre-season, questions regarding White Plains' reliability in the paint surfaced.

 Tucker, a highly-regarded 6-foot-6 Division-I recruit, is a mainstay in the backcourt and the Tigers' frontline seemed thin.

Tapper’s performance may have elicited a few answers.

And while DeMello was grateful for the co-MVP trophy, he quickly and selflessly surrendered it to Tapper, who provided 32 minutes of sustained energy and focus.

 During a jarringly ugly first half, as a barrage of bricks fell, Tapper levitated above taller players.

He thirsted for the ball. He crashed the boards, battling through more wear and tear than Tom Konchalski's monthly train pass.

Both teams were limited offensively in the first half. Since all of Mayfield’s offensive threats have been defensive players first, the swarming chest-to-chest pressure kept White Plains from falling into a rut.

The Tigers instigated 15 first half turnovers.

Middletown, led by Aaron Ray’s 14 points, erupted at the start of third quarter.

 Ray, the younger brother of former Villanova star and current professional Allan Ray, jolted his team into focus with seven straight points.

 The spark swelled Middletown’s lead to 30-24 with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter. Then, the defense Mayfield has preached since Day One took over.

DeMello's father, former Rice High coach Lou DeMello, has orchestrated this event for 15 years.

On Sunday, the coach's son simply would not let his team lose. The key was stopping the bleeding.

Finally, in blink-quick fashion, DeMello went out and stopped it.

This league commissioner won't be handing out any trophies tonight, albeit White Plains will break into 2014 with a price on its head.

This win was before the home crowd, a horde of DeMello's family members in attendance.

This win was for bragging rights. 

This win was on the same court DeMello traipsed the sidelines of as an elementary school kid, watching Dave Boykin dole out assists and witnessing Sean Kilpatrick knife through defenses years later.

The game-altering moments were as storybook as they were necessary.

And it took all of 20 seconds.