Saturday, August 2, 2014

Hudson Valley Throttles Nassau As Nwankwo Erupts

Tom Capuano hit Rickey McGill as he motored up the court, bolstered by a full dome of steam.

Seizing the numbers advantage, McGill whipped a pass to a wide open Jonathon Nwankwo. Spurred by a second half burst of adrenaline, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Nwankwo flushed home a furious two-handed dunk.

On Hudson Valley's ensuing possession, Capuano found a cutting Matt Ryan, who leaned in for a lefty layup to cap a 10-2 run.

Based on the uptick in tempo, based on the way they were doling out the extra pass and applying swarming and hiked up pressure, one would assume this was a tight game.

They were actually nursing a 25-point bulge.

Hudson Valley's waves of depth and a commendable performance from Nwankwo keyed a thorough 108-61 drubbing of lowly Nassau.

Nwankwo, a hotly-pursued recruit, with surging interest from Minnesota, Tennessee, Seton Hall, Fordham, and Rice, to name a few, provided an efficient account of himself.

The incoming senior scored a game-best 19 points (8-for-12 FG), inhaled 11 boards, and had three blocked shots in 20 minutes.

"Probably one of the more impressive things (Nwankwo) does is run the floor," said Hudson Valley assistant coach Billy Thom Jr.

"He was burying kids today. He picked up the charge on a questionable call, just because kids started getting in his way. What he does really well is change floors pretty quickly. Because of his size and that skill of being able to change floors, he's really big for us."

So is Matt Ryan.

The Notre Dame-bound 3-point ace, sidelined for seven months with a torn labrum and bone impingement in each hip, entered the upstate shootout with a rediscovered rifle.

Nearing full strength, Ryan scored 11 points and delivered four assists while in under 18 minutes.

 He shot 4-for-5, sniping 3-for-4 from way beyond the arc. It was a layered performance for Hudson Valley, with the power in numbers factor on full display throughout.

The scorebook was balanced with Salim Green (13 points, 4-for-5 FG), Andrew Groll (13 points, 4-for-6 FG) Rickey McGill (12 points, 5-for-7 FG).

Ball-hawking guard Tom Capuano and Jordan Riullano added seven apiece.

"We talked all weekend about wearing down the opponent," Billy Thom Jr. said.

"We likened it to a boxing match and how they might take the first couple of punches but at some point they are going to get worn down. Because A) they don't quite have as much depth as we do. B) Our guys have been playing a lot of games, so they're pretty well conditioned. I think it's our talent, but secondary is guys are starting to run out of gas on the other teams because we just keep punching. We can bring in five new guys. We came in waves and waves today."

In the first half, Hudson Valley built a 30-18 lead after Green pick-pocketed a Nassau guard and hit a streaking McGill, who crushed home a one-handed fast break dunk.

 Quiet in the tournament-opener, Green's offensive repertoire was on full display. He exploded into the driving lanes for a traditional 3-point play. He swished a Chris Ward-trademarked stepback. Green displayed solid elevation on his jumper, a release point that makes him a tough guard.

The lead swelled to 32-21, as Luke McLaughlin dropped off a high-low precision pass to Groll for an easy bucket.

And while they thrived with selflessness, they failed to effectively pound the ball inside to Nwankwo.

That all changed in the second half. Realizing the potency of a 6-foot-9 weapon against a significantly smaller frontline, Hudson Valley began to pound it outside. If Nwankwo was entangled in a double or triple team, it opened up space for shooters and created kickouts.

Heeding Thom's call to be more aggressive around the rim, Nwankwo provided a pair of stickbacks during Hudson Valley's first two possessions.

 Then, he powered up and crushed a violent dunk, extracting an eruption across the bench.

"I had to stay open," said Nwankwo.

"Because if I get the ball, three guys are going to be on me. We're coming together as a team. Even though we know each other from House of Sports, chemistry is a big thing for us."

Orchestrating a baseline to baseline attack, keeping the defensive heat on despite a sizable lead,  involving all 12 players, Hudson Valley simply refused to lift its foot off Nassua's neck.

 Mike Jurzynski, a 6-foot-4 guard/forward out of the Master's School, threaded through traffic and crammed a filthy double-fisted dunk.

Jurzynski, who competed in the dunk contest prior to that, has been a pleasant surprise for Thom.

Few were aware of the deceptive athleticism possessed Jurzynkski,  a bit more Bill Gates than Bill Cartwright by appearance.

Hey, looks can be deceiving.

The Pearl River native has emerged as a dependable shooter who can attack the rim and supplement Nwankwo and Groll on the low blocks.

Woodlands' Jamil Gambari provided length and athleticism with putbacks and Will Hoffman turned in quality minutes off the bench, scoring six points and providing additional rim protection.

Everyone ate off the plate.

Say what you'd like about Bill Thom.

The longtime Croton coach, who took a verbal bashing from multiple sources on LOHUD's Varsity Insider Blog following the team's roster release, has reaped the right rewards out of a scorer-laden roster.

Even during last year's tournament, when Hudson Valley had tremendously less talent and depth, Thom's alarming press and fluid ball movement was an overwhelming factor.

Now, with the best team on paper, Hudson Valley is cognizant of the championship-or-bust expectation which surrounds them.

The bar is set at moon-scraping levels because of the unparalleled overall roster strength.

As stacked as they've ever been, this is an assembled core of the area's elite prep and public school talent.

The primary concern entering the tournament was Hudson Valley's bevy of ball-dominating scorers.

The main question, hovering over the 3-hour trek from Westchester County Johnson City is if this patchwork group could mesh. Each of these players is accustomed to being "the man" on their high school team, having plays run for them and taking a good percentage of the shots. Would they buy in completely, sacrificing individual numbers for a Gold Medal?

Ego-free in three tournament games thus far, Hudson Valley has handled prosperity without holding back, dumping off recent meager competition.

In the first half, Nassau stayed within single digits of Hudson Valley early, primarily because of the deep 3-point shooting of Winston Jones.

"We realized that we were only up about 15 at the half," explained Jurzynski.

"We realized, we just had to shut (Jones) down and they would all collapse. That's what we did."

Hudson Valley's press, the steady dose of pressure, helped Nassau coil into an offensive funk mid-way through the first half.

A spate of turnovers slashed and burned Nassau's possessions.

"We had Matt (Ryan) fade off a little bit," Jurzynski said.

 "They actually had a guy in the middle, which our press didn't cover at first. So then we had Matt drop off and had Salim push up a little bit, to cover that middle guy and give them no options for the press break."