While the University Prep boys basketball team was no pushover Friday morning, the Griffins and an unlikely run to a state championship were stopped.
University Prep, a team from an all-boys charter school in the city of Rochester, led at halftime of its Class D state tournament semifinal against Section I champion Martin Luther King.
Martin Luther King turned that modest five-point lead into a deep hole for University Prep. The Griffins climbed back but ultimately lost to the Tigers from Westchester County, 56-53, at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
This was University Prep’s first varsity season, and the state final four-appearance by the Griffins (19-4) was made even more notable because it was accomplished with a roster of eighth-graders, freshmen and sophomores — no juniors or seniors. But it was the Tigers (14-8) who knew what to do in order to advance into Saturday’s final against Argyle (23-0).
“It was probably the toughest game we ever played,” University Prep sophomore Cameron Myles said. “In the beginning we came out strong, our defense was on point and our shots were falling.
“The second half, they switched their defense.”
Myles, a 6-foot-3 guard/forward, described that Martin Luther King defense as a triangle-and-two. University Prep point guard Marique Simkin called the defense a 1-3-1, with four Tigers who guarded areas while teammate Chris Sanchez followed him. Martin Luther King players called that defense the diamond.
Whatever the name, the strategy worked.
University Prep’s lead was up to eight points near the halfway mark of the third quarter when Martin Luther King closed the period on a 19-3 run. Peter Hargrove gave Martin Luther King the lead with a putback and his 3-pointer on the next possesion sent the Tigers off to a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“Defense,” Hargrove explained. “We had to trust our teammates.
“We were playing with our hearts. We had to use our heads.”
Hargrove scored a game-high 21 points for the Tigers. Jermaine Shaw had 13 points and Johnson grabbed 19 rebounds for the Tigers, who overcame 27 turnovers, which more than doubled University Prep’s 11.
University Prep rallied with its defense to go on a 15-3 run. Simkins floated in a shot to tie the score 53-53, but free throws by Sanchez gave back the lead to Martin Luther King. Shaw made one of two attempts with 17.7 seconds remaining to move the Tigers’ advantage to three points.
Myles, who led University Prep with 19 points, missed a 3-pointer as time ran out.