It was clear from the start, the Class A first-round matchup of Peekskill and Pearl River, two schools with some playoff history between them, was going to be about survival.
And it sure was.
Fifth-seeded Peekskill survived a big effort from the 12th-seeded Pirates and moved on with a 70-67 win Friday. The Red Devils did it by pressuring on defense; by going to a box-and-one on big man Kevin Degnan, who had scored 16 of his 22 points in the first half; and by taking over the boards at the end, particularly Musheed Muhammad, who finished with 13 rebounds and 16 points.
“We boxed out because the guy was killing us on the board, just rebounded more and got it done,” Muhammad said. “We definitely wanted to box out the big guy. We wanted to get him out of the equation.”
But it never got easy. Pearl River went up by eight with 2:10 left in the third quarter when Peekskill coach Lou Panzanaro called time out.
“I said: We can’t play this slow tempo anymore. We have to force them to get up and down the floor and look for some steals,” Panzanaro said. “I think that pressure we put upcourt changed the complexion.”
Indeed, the Red Devils went on a high-speed 11-0 run to close out the quarter with a 54-51 lead.
“That was big,” Pearl River coach Jerry Houston said. “And it happened very, very quickly. We committed two, maybe three live turnovers where we have them 2-on-1, 1-on-zero, easy baskets. … I think that was the biggest thing that contributed to the run.”
Nevertheless, it was 60-60 late in the fourth.
“I told these guys, it’s probably as hard as I’ve had a team play in recent memory,” Houston said. “I think they left everything on the floor, gave everything they had. We had guys step up and make some big shots, and we came up a little short.”
In an ultra-competitive Class A, Peekskill moves on to meet Albertus Magnus Tuesday in the quarterfinals.
Pearl River had four players in double figures, with Tom Davis (13 points, eight boards), Tom Armour (15), Rich Masley (12 and eight rebounds) and of course Degman, who had six rebounds to go with his 22 points.
Peekskill was led by Jay Cabell (16 points), Muhammad and Chavis Pigott (12 each), and Laron Holt (12 and seven boards).
Panzanaro, the all-time Section 1 boys basketball leader in victories who celebrated his 67th birthday Friday, has hinted that this will be his final season. But with his team alive, and junior-laden, he admitted he’s having second thoughts and he will put off the decision until the offseason.