Saturday, March 1, 2014

Furious Second Half Propels Woodlands To Section 1 Title

The green jerseys swarmed ball handlers in unison, creating all sorts of hazard. Putnam Valley's routine cadence was halted, with untimely turnovers pulling Woodlands out of a 13-point third quarter deficit.

Ziplock-tight on-the-ball prressure and the hot hand of Brandon Johnson, who drained four 3-pointers and sparked a rapid-fire 12-0 run, propelled the Falcons to a pulsating 55-51 Section 1 championship victory.

"Coach told me at halftime, 'Look for your shot, try to get hot,'" said Johnson, who finished with 16 points, each 3-pointer louder than the next as the green-clad cheering section of the County Center erupted into a frenzy.

"We had to attack the rim and get rebounds, as coach emphasized. After halftime, we just knew it was time to turn it on. It's a great feeling."

Woodlands girls and boys teams captured back-to-back Sectional championships for the first time since 1979. Jamil Gambari scored 18 points and tore down 12 rebounds, bagging MVP honors.

Woodlands, which scored 21 unanswered points during a sustained surge, limited the sharpshooting Tigers.

Putnam Valley buried Irvington with a fusillade of 3-pointers in the semifinal, but they entered the championship shootout with nothing more than a super soaker. There was a search warrant out for the Tigers' offense, which experienced headaches countering Woodlands' augmented on-the-ball pressure.

"The wrong kids had the ball at the end of the game," said Woodlands coach Bob Murphy.

Woodlands induced a five-second violation on an inbounds pass. The Falcons capitalized as Johnson swished a 3-pointer which supplied a 34-33 lead.

Woodlands capped the blink-quick 9-0 streak with another 3-point bucket from Johnson, taking a 39-34 lead. Putnam Valley never recovered from the fireworks.

Guard Pierre Lys was the catalyst for the uptick in harassment.

Like a sprinter picking off his opponent during the final two seconds of a 200-meter race, Lys had a crucial come-from-behind steal that wrecked a Putnam Valley fast break.  It was Lys who knocked back two clutch free throws, giving the Falcons a 49-43 edge with just over one minute remaining.

"We had a three feet rule on defense and Pierre just can't do that," explained Murphy.

"Finally we just let him loose. He was able to get some key steals. I just wanted our kids to maintain their composure."

Zach Coleman, the Tigers' leading scorer and one of the poster boys of this two-year Putnam Valley ascension, drilled a titanic 3-pointer with 30 seconds left to cut it to 52-50.

Woodlands answered with a pair of clutch free throws from Abdoulaye Sow with 26 seconds left, creating a four-point cushion.

On a second chance opportunity, freakish athlete Jelani Bell-Isaac chased a loose ball and surged to the rim. The senior drew a foul and hit 1-of-2 at the line, as Woodlands held on.

Coleman had 19 points to lead the Tigers, fighting for his shot through draping coverage until the buzzer. The 6-foot-2 senior scored on a drive that sliced it to 46-43 with 1:40 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Prior to that, Bell-Isaac (18 points, 16 rebounds) finished through traffic with a banker. It was too little too late for the Tigers, who surfaced as early favorites in November.

Both Coleman and Bell-Isaac leave a considerable gap, though the Tigers return experience and firepower with Ryan Basso (29 points, 7-for-11 from downtown in semifinal) and Zack Nolan, another 3-point ace. Nolan has been forced to grow up fast, as he's been on varsity since he was an eighth grader.

During Woodlands' semifinal win over Rye Neck, the Falcons overcame a paltry third quarter in which they settled for deep jumpers. The Falcons knifed to the basket while simultaneously popping the momentum out of the Panthers' heart.

That's been their style all season--attack at a furious pace during spurts and keep the foot on foes' necks.

 During the biggest game of the season, before its loyal and ebullient crowd, the Falcons capped off a historic afternoon with their second Gold Ball in five years.