WHITE PLAINS – Twice in the last month, MLK lost to Clark Academy in a rematch of last year’s Section 1 final. The Tigers are fully aware of this, and also fully confident that the rematch will be different.
“Yeah, we feel very confident. We’re coming for them,” MLK eighth grader Romello Faison said. “We’re going to beat them for sure.”
The second-seeded Tigers received a shot of confidence on Monday when they beat No. 3 Biondi 60-53 in a Class D semifinal that opened Championship Week at the County Center. Faison played beyond his years, scoring eight of his 12 points in the second half, and senior Johari Evans had a team-high 15, punctuated by a pair of crowd-pleasing dunks.
“It was exciting. Once I get pumped up, I’m ready for it,” Evans said. “I have to bring it more and more. I’m ready for Clark. That’s what we’re coming for.”
MLK (5-15) earned its berth alongside Clark in Friday’s 3 p.m. Class D championship game. Clark, the two-time defending champ, had a bye into the final by virtue of the three-team Class D field. The teams met in last year’s final, which Clark won 52-47.
Clark also beat MLK twice during the regular season: 80-62 on Feb. 1 and 79-60 on Feb. 11.
“We need to play more defense, and we’re going to push as hard as we’ve ever pushed,” Evans said. “There are only 32 minutes left, so we’re going to push until we can’t push no more.”
MLK first needed to respond to the second-quarter surge from late-arriving Biondi. Several of the Lions (2-16) arrived less than 15 minutes before tip-off and they fell into a 16-7 hole after one quarter. Biondi quickly regrouped and poured in 23 in the second to pull in front at halftime. The Tigers improved their effort defensively in the second half and actually built a double-digit lead at one point.
“We got our heads in the game,” Evans said. “We had a little adversity at first, but we got it together. We had to give it to them. We had to play with some heart. That’s all we had to play with.”
Player of the game: Johari Evans, MLK. In addition to his 15 points, Evans was a disruptive force at both ends. He led the team in scoring and was active on defense and the glass.
Stat line: Sophomore Chuck Williams had 12 points for MLK. … Biondi sophomore Giovanny Lozado led all scorers with 21 points. Senior Jerrell Rivera added 13 points.
Quotable: “Once I felt him, I had to go over him. That’s the motto,” said Evans, who provided the highlight of the game when he dunked over a defender late in the second quarter.