Entering the Mirabito STOP-DWI Holiday Classic, Maine-Endwell hadn’t quite looked like the same team that had won last year’s Southern Tier Athletic Conference and Section 4 Class A boys basketball titles.
On Monday, however, the Spartans looked every bit like a championship squad, securing the Regional Divison I title in impressive fashion as Jake Sinicki’s 20-point, nine-rebound effort helped M-E to a 57-49 victory over previously unbeaten Fayetteville-Manlius at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
Kyle Gallagher — named the Regional Division I tournament’s Most Valuable Player — added 14 points for M-E (4-2), which had suffered early-season losses to Union-Endicott and Horseheads and also had a narrow escape against winless Vestal prior to this weekend’s fine showing.
“We’ve had a couple of tough ones, but I think this got our swagger back,” said Sinicki, whose team had beaten Binghamton, 56-36, in a Regional Division I first-round game Saturday. “It’s good momentum for us.”
In a tight, back-in-forth contest which featured numerous lead changes, M-E finally seized control midway through the fourth quarter against a Hornets squad that came into the weekend ranked 16th in the state in Class A.
After a pair of free throws by Binghamton University-bound John Schurman brought F-M (6-1) within 44-43 with 5:19 remaining in the fourth quarter, M-E scored the next seven points.
Drew Gallagher nailed a 3-pointer from the right corner to put M-E up 47-43 with just under five minutes left. Following an F-M turnover, a quick three-pass sequence by M-E led to a Kyle Gallagher layup that made it 49-43, and less than a minute later Sinicki scored on a bank shot in the lane following a nice feed from Adam Gallagher off an inbounds play to put M-E ahead 51-43 with 3:34 left.
The Hornets drew within 51-47 with 2:32 left, but Drew Gallagher hit one of two free throws to put M-E up five with 1:50 left, and Sinicki added two more free throws with 59.4 left when he was hacked following an offensive rebound off a Kyle Gallagher long miss to make it 54-47.
“He played huge,” M-E coach Bill Ocker said of Sinicki. “We told him before the game we don’t win if he doesn’t play like an animal. (Twenty points and nine rebounds) is definitely an animal.”
M-E’s ball movement against F-M’s tenacious 1-3-1 half-court defense also was the difference. The Spartans had 15 assists on its 22 baskets, a fair share of those baskets coming after multiple passes as the Spartans broke down the back end of the defense to the tune of a 38-18 advantage on points in the paint.
“We play a little 1-3-1, but we don’t see it that often, especially the entire length of the game,” said Adam Gallagher, who had a team-high seven assists. “We did what we were supposed to do, got in the gaps, and the passing was awesome, we were so unselfish.”
Sinicki and Alec Wisniewski shouldered the scoring load in the first quarter, combining for 12 points for M-E as the Spartans trailed 15-14 after the game’s opening eight minutes.
M-E scored seven of the first nine points of the second quarter, capped by a steal and layup by Sinicki, to lead 21-17 with 5:53 remaining, but F-M answered with nine of the next 13 points to go ahead 26-25 with 3:06 remaining. F-M managed just a lone Schurman basket the rest of the quarter as M-E led 29-28 at halftime.
M-E’s defense stiffened in the second half, holding F-M to 25 percent shooting (7-for-28) after the Hornets had converted at a 48 percent clip (10-for-21) in the first half.
Schurman finished with 18 points but no other F-M player reached double-digits.
“Hopefully this will get us going,” Ocker said. “This is such a great tournament, we had a great experience, from the message to the games, and we’ll definitely run with it going into the new year.”