NEW PALTZ – The crowd loved it.
Poughkeepsie — its boys basketball team and its fans — had been on the edge of their seat during a taut first half and, perhaps, nervous at times during the competitive portion of that third quarter.
“We were a little stagnant in the first half and we allowed them to dictate the tempo,” Pioneers coach Jerome Elting said. “We needed to change that.”
Then came the eruption — from the team, and its fans in response. It was deafening din of a raucous quasi-home crowd at SUNY New Paltz that roared with delight as Poughkeepsie went on a run and literally ran its opponent out of the game.
Spurred by that electric spurt, the Pioneers built a sizeable lead and held on to beat Section 4’s Johnson City High School, 73-59, in a Class A regional semifinal on Wednesday.
One can now anticipate an even more charged atmosphere on Saturday as the Pioneers advance to face neighborhood rival Our Lady of Lourdes in an all-Poughkeepsie regional final, noon at Pace University in Pleasantville.
“Everybody from Poughkeepsie might come out to that,” Mo’Quez Dickens said with a grin. “It’s gonna be big.”
Whomever the victor in that matchup, the town (and Dutchess County) will have reason to celebrate.
The Pioneers earned their way there with an impressive second half and, with Lourdes in the stands watching and scouting, essentially issued a memo: This team is athletic and deep and better than initially advertised.
Poughkeepsie, switching to a smaller lineup and upping the tempo in the latter part of the third quarter, finished the period with a 20-6 outburst that included an eight-point flurry in 52 seconds.
“Coach told us to play faster,” forward Davontrey Thomas said. “He said this team was slow, so we needed to push the ball more. It worked.”
The Pioneers went ahead, 35-33, on Marvin Lunsford’s free throws with 4:31 left in the period. In a blink, Dickens was raising up court for a layup. Seconds later, Niyal Goins was doing the same, converting a steal into a fast-break layup. Then Goins again a few seconds later. And the rout was on.
Poughkeepsie trailed, 28-27, at halftime. But that was soon erased and forgotten.
“We’ve been down before and that doesn’t mean nothing to us anymore,” Lunsford said. “It just means we have to turn up the intensity.”
And never was the crowd, or this team, more amped than with 25 seconds left in the third, when Dickens demonstrated a move worthy of multiple rewinds.
The point guard got a steal and zipped down court with one defender to beat. And that defender’s knees soon buckled as he crossed over, dribbled behind his back then scooped in a layup to absolute delight of the crowd. The slick move pushed the lead to 52-39, and upped the decibel several levels.
“I didn’t know Mo had that in the arsenal,” Thomas said with a chuckle. “It was good move. The crowd loved it.”
Elting said that Dickens is “the straw that stirs the drink for us sometimes,” though he is often overlooked because he isn’t a prolific scorer. Dickens said he wasn’t looking to show off with the dribble, he simply “needed to get a basket.”
Lunsford and Corey Simmons each scored 20 points to lead Poughkeepsie (15-7). Goins added nine points and Dickens had four points, six assists and four steals. Johnson City’s Patrick Garey scored 24 points.
Simmons, a 6-foot-7 center owned the paint in the first half, scoring easily inside. The Wildcats, a considerably smaller team, “had nobody that could match his size,” Lunsford said. Simmons had 14 points, before Johnson City countered that with perimeter shooting. That is, until Poughkeepsie changed the pace and pressured them out of their half-court sets.
“This is great,” Thomas said. “I’ve never experienced this before and I never expected it this season. But now we’re here, I wanna keep on going.”
Lourdes also has a fast and athletic team with a band of outside shooters. But the ballyhooed matchup, no doubt, will be the battle in the post: Simmons against Lourdes’ 6-foot-5 center James Anozie, a dominant scorer.
“I expect it to be a competitive game with two big men who are well-respected around the county,” Elting said. “Hopefully we’re the ones coming out on top, but this will be a good thing for either team.”
And for all of Poughkeepsie. The crowd will love it.
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4