A game between the top teams in Yale Cup I rarely disappoints. The games are marked by screaming fans, players laying it on the line, intense battles in the paint, quick transitions, and a whole lot of player pride from both teams. Some games go back-and-forth the entire way, while others are defined by big runs from both teams. Middle College's visit to McKinley, a game crucial to where the coveted Yale Cup will end up, had all the above mentioned components, and it didn't disappoint.
Shaquan Jones started hot for the Macks and finished with a game-high 24 points, as McKinley topped Middle College, 70-65. The win keeps McKinley unbeaten against city competition and created a two-game lead over the Kats in the race for the Yale Cup.
Jones scored the game's first basket, ended the first quarter with a 3-pointer from the corner in front of the Kats' bench, and added several buckets in between. A fast-paced opening frame yielded 14 points for Jones, as McKinley took a double-digit lead early, 26-16. Devin Morris had a great block in the lane for the Macks and Jaylen Prophet spun into the paint against a defender,before zipping a beautiful pass to Jones for an assist, as the Macks looked like they could do no wrong out of the gates.
Less than two minutes into the second quarter, Morris scored on a putback to push the McKinley lead to 32-18, prompting a Kats' timeout.
"We knew they would make a run", McKinley coach Zaire Dorsey said.
That's exactly what happened.
Amir Jemes, Fred Foster, Brian Johnson, and Isaiah Jenkins combined to produce 18 points for Middle College over the next three minutes, as the Kats came storming right back and took the lead, 36-34. In the last minute of the half, JoJo Staton nailed a 3-pointer with a defender right on him, giving Middle College a 41-36 lead. McKinley's Bruce Booker was able to answer it with his own '3' before the intermission, but the Kats still led, 41-39, at the break.
"We stopped attacking, we weren't playing smart, we weren't sharing the ball" Dorsey said.
The Macks went back on the attack coming out of the locker room for the second half, and found the Kats were also in attack mode, making for an exciting and competitive final 16 minutes of Yale Cup basketball. After a first half defined by each team controlling a quarter, the second half saw the lead change on 14 different occasions, along with five ties.
With just under three minutes left in the game, Middle College was in front, 61-60. McKinley got the ball to Morris in the left corner, closely guarded by a defender. Morris calculated his move, gave a quick step fake, and let a '3' fly...swish. The Macks got in transition on their next possession and Morris drew a defender his way, opening up Juwan Tolliver in the right corner. Morris found him waiting wide open and delivered him the ball...bang! Just like that, McKinley led 66-61, with two minutes remaining.
"Confident. I wanted Morris to drive - the guy sagged, he hit the shot, that's what you're supposed to do", said Dorsey. "Then he found Juwan - that's team basketball. He shared it, Juwan was wide open in rhythm and hit the shot".
Middle College got the ball to Staton for a look at '3' from the corner in front of their bench twice in the last two minutes, but both times his shot was rejected by the rings that hang from the ceiling. The Kats got two more looks from downtown before the final buzzer sounded, but couldn't get anything to fall.
Dorsey congratulated each of his players as they headed into the locker room following the game and seemed genuinely pleased with the win.
"It's hard to play a game during regents week. It's not a regular school day, so you don't have your routine. Any win we can get against quality competition without Keyon Johnson is just going to make us a stronger team".
Morris finished with 15 points for McKinley and Tolliver added 13 points in the win.
Sophomore point guard Jemes and junior big man Johnson were both fantastic for the Kats in the loss, leaving everything out on the court, and finishing with 16 and 15 points, respectively.