WHITE PLAINS – Despite being one of the most highly anticipated games of the week, fans in the balcony for Mount Vernon and Saunders’ Class AA semifinal began to file out by the late stages of the third quarter. Stars on both sides had been wracked with foul trouble, resulting in a disjointed game that fell short of the hype.
In the end, Mount Vernon had no complaints. The top-seeded Knights forced their agenda in the second half, beating No. 4 Saunders 59-41 at the County Center to return to the Class AA championship game.
Mount Vernon (17-5) will play No. 2 Fox Lane at noon on Sunday.
“I didn’t think it was ugly at all,” Knights coach Bob Cimmino said. “This was one game where the fellas really followed the game plan. They played us to 10 points in our place. We had to focus on them all week and we really did.”
His Knights forced 29 turnovers. Junior Marco Morency had eight steals to go with his 10 points despite being one of several players to spend much of the first half on the bench.
There were 48 fouls called in the game.
“It really didn’t bother us,” Morency said. “We just stayed on the bench with the same energy we had on the court.”
Mount Vernon received a lift off the bench from junior Derrick Hamlin and sophomore Demetre Roberts. They were two of several reserves who provided a contribution for the Knights, who beat Saunders 62-52 at home on Jan. 9 and also beat the Blue Devils (16-7) in last year’s semifinals.
“The game plan was to put a lot of pressure on the ball. We did, and look at the outcome,” Morency said. “We thought it was going to be a hard-fought game and it was — until the second half came.”
Player of the game: Derrick Hamlin, Mount Vernon. When both teams were struggling to score, the 6-foot-3 junior came off the bench to post a game-high 13 points and grabbed five rebounds.
“D.J. comes in the game with a lot of energy,” Morency said. “To be honest, I love D.J. right now.”
Turning point: Although Mount Vernon led by nine at halftime, the Knights really put the game away with a 12-0 run during the third quarter. The surge was fueled by Morency’s work in the press. He had eight steals for the game, and his activity helped keep Saunders scoreless for most of the third quarter.
Stat line: Saunders was held to 9-of-33 shooting (27 percent) and was outrebounded 34-21. Senior stars Derrick Felder and Anthony Miller each battled foul trouble and finished with nine and eight points, respectively. Vaughn Lennon added nine points and eight rebounds. … Noah Morgan had nine points and nine rebounds for Mount Vernon.
Quotable: “Absolutely nobody is surprised he did that,” Cimmino said of Hamlin. “I used bad English in the locker room at halftime. I said, ‘We have more good players than they do.’ I said it a couple of times. I thought it was true and I was very proud of what happened. We had good efforts from a few different people. We had to sit players because of fouls and we responded.”