When Tappan Zee lost to Poughkeepsie in last year’s Class A quarterfinals, Ryan McWilliams was nothing more than a seldom-used reserve filling a uniform. On Monday, the senior forward proved just how much a difference 12 months can make.
“I don’t know if the award exists, but they should make one up for the most improved kid,” coach George Gaine said. “College coaches ask me, ‘Who is that kid?’ Legitimately, he’s the most improved kid I’ve ever coached.”
McWilliams’ introduction to the defending Section 1 champ was an emphatic one: He had 24 points, 15 rebounds and three steals as No. 6 Tappan Zee beat No. 11 Poughkeepsie 56-51 in a Class A first-round game.
McWilliams had 15 points and 10 rebounds en route to a 30-19 Tappan Zee halftime lead.
His slashing, physical style of play was in stark contrast to the talented-but-young Pioneers, who had seven sophomores, a freshman and an eighth-grader on the roster for their Section 1 swan song.
“I think when you get some guys who hadn’t been in this atmosphere that it showed during the game,” said Poughkeepsie coach Brian Laffin, whose team will join Section 9 next season. “They were just bigger, but I think our future is bright.”
So is the present for the Dutchmen (17-3), who will visit No. 3 Our Lady of Lourdes on Wednesday at 6:15 in the quarterfinals.
If they secure a fourth trip to the County Center in five seasons, McWilliams will likely be a key.
He hit four 3-pointers to help build the double-digit lead, although Poughkeepsie sophomore Malik Williams (17 points) and senior Otis Elvy (12 points, 12 rebounds) led a late rally that Tappan Zee was forced to withstand.
Luke McLaughlin added 13 points and six rebounds for the Dutchmen and Phil Powers scored 12 points.
“They beat us by a lot last year, so we wanted to come back and beat them,” Powers said.
No one appeared more focused than McWilliams, who sparked a 10-2 start.
“I guess I didn’t work as hard last year. Coach put me in opportunities, I just didn’t make the most of them,” the all-section forward said.
“This year, I’m just trying to make the most of every opportunity he gives me.”