There might as well have been a countdown as Brandon Evans received an outlet pass on a fast break and began shortening his stride, peering at the basket and readying himself for takeoff.
The ball dropped early in the mid-Hudson Valley this New Year’s Eve… at 5:46 p.m., to be exact.
Evans’ soaring one-handed dunk was thrown down emphatically, resulting in the ball slamming hard off the court and the crowd roaring in approval at Our Lady of Lourdes High School on Saturday.
More importantly for the Beacon boys basketball team, that play came during a dominant fourth-quarter stretch during which the Bulldogs took control en route to beating Spackenkill High School, 76-64, to capture the Duane Davis Memorial Tournament championship.
“I saw a wide-open basket and I love to dunk,” said the 6-foot Evans. “It’s fun for me and everybody gets into it.”
Particularly when the team is winning. Beacon erased what once was a nine-point deficit, tied it at the end of the third quarter, and then outscored Spackenkill 22-10 in the fourth.
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Alex Benson, who was named tournament MVP, scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half to lead the Bulldogs (7-2). Andre Davis, effective in the paint and from the perimeter, added 16 points and Zamere McKenzie had 14 points and earned the “Team Player” award.
Beacon reached the Section 1 Class A semifinals last season but graduated a slew of key players. With that came questions about how fruitful this season could be. The Bulldogs topped John Jay, 83-75, in overtime on Wednesday to advance to the tournament final.
“We beat good teams to get this,” Benson said, pointing to the tournament trophy. “The league was sleeping on us and I hope this is a wake-up call for Dutchess County that we’re here. We’re for real.”
The win, they hope, will be a springboard for the remainder of the season. Marlboro won the tournament last year and eventually went on to reach the state Class B final.
“I don’t see why we can’t do big things,” Evans said. “We’re showing right now that we’re good.”
The Bulldogs also accomplished this feat on Saturday without head coach Scott Timpano, who was out of town. Junior varsity coach John Philipbar filled in. Snow on Thursday caused the postponement of games, pushing the semifinals to Friday and the final to Saturday. Timpano had weekend travel plans with his family that, Philipbar said, “he couldn’t back out of.”
The agreement was made and the players were informed on Wednesday that if Beacon reached the final, Philipbar would take the helm.
“I’ve bragged to a few people already,” said Philipbar, who coached his first varsity game. “I’m 1-0 and I’m retiring with the best winning percentage in Beacon history.”
He put his imprint on this contest, switching in the third quarter from their usual zone defense to man coverage with a tight press. After Tucker Lee’s three-pointer gave Spackenkill a 52-41 lead with 4:24 left in the third, the Bulldogs began applying back-court pressure. The change in scheme led to a number of turnovers and fast breaks, including Evans’ dunk.
“I’ve always told my teams that there’s two plays I think are game-changers,” Philipbar said. “One is taking a charge and the other is a dunk. Whenever we get one, it often turns into a four, six-point run.”
In this case, it punctuated a 7-0 run and gave Beacon a 61-54 lead with 6:13 remaining.
“That kid flies,” Benson said of Evans. “If you give him a fast break, it’s a dunk. It gets the crowd up, gets us up.”
Lee and Camron Abalos each scored 20 points for Spackenkill. Hayden Peek added 14 points and Kyiev Bennermon had 13.
The Bulldogs trailed for most of the first half, but Jemond Galloway’s put-back tied it at 53 with 1:13 left in the third. Jerome Henderson’s free throws put Beacon ahead for good at the start of the fourth. McKenzie’s jumper made it 70-59, essentially sealing the game with 2:53 to go.
Playing on New Year’s Eve was worth it, Evans said, “Because we won.”
Benson, who also stars for the Beacon football team, said only this victory could serve as consolation for having missed out on watching the college football semifinals. He was rooting hard for the University of Alabama. The defending champion Crimson Tide beat Washington on Saturday.
“Yeah,” Benson said, “this was a good weekend.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4