NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- New Rochelle was 0-2 entering Friday’s matchup at Ramapo. Huguenots coach Rasaun Young wasn't too pleased about that and decided to shake things up a bit by starting all his juniors.
The result? A 68-66 road win in the final seconds.
Antoine Lewis made a runner in the lane with two seconds to remaining to win it for New Rochelle, which struggled in losses to Uniondale and Clarkstown South to open the season.
Justin Watson, the Huguenots senior captain, started on the bench along with the rest of his fellow seniors.
“I wasn’t very happy with our performance in the first two games,” Young said. “There was a lack of leadership and a lack of effort. I was testing [Watson’s] character a bit and he stepped up big off the bench.”
Watson played limited minutes in the first quarter but made an immediate impact when he came onto the floor. The senior had eight points at the half but led the team with 25 points and seven rebounds by the end.
Watson addressed his coach’s decision to start him on the bench after the game.
“We’re the seniors and starting on the bench really put a fire under us,” Watson said. “We spoke about it before the game and we knew we weren’t playing well the first two games. Coming into the game we had a lot of energy. It really helped.”
The game was tightly contested from the opening tip. The squads were never separated by more than four points in the entire first half.
Ramapo was absolutely dominant on the boards in the first two quarters, outrebounding New Rochelle by a 20-9 margin. In fact, Ramapo forward Mezu Agwu matched the Huguenots in the first half all on his own.
The game went to the half at 28-27 in favor of Ramapo but the lead felt like it should have been much more.
New Rochelle came out in the second half and turned on the full-court press. It immediately began to create turnovers and gave the Huguenots a boost. But the biggest swing in momentum came when Agwu got into foul trouble early in the third quarter and was forced to sit until late in the game.
“We were very fortunate that the big fellow [Agwu] got in foul trouble,” Young said. “That really helped us a lot because he was getting them second chances and making buckets. He was playing really good.”
Ramapo clung to a 41-39 lead as the fourth quarter began.
The pace of the game was wide open because of the press and buckets were coming quickly on both ends of the court. New Rochelle scored more in the fourth quarter than they did in the entire first half.
Wendell Floyd led the Gryphons with nine points in the fourth but Watson was right there and matched him with nine of his own.
It came down to a tie game at 66-66 with 0:14 remaining on the clock and Ramapo inbounded below their basket. Daniel Haye dribbled upcourt slowly but New Rochelle suddenly picked up the pressure at half court. Haye attempted a cross court pass and with under seven seconds remaining; Lewis snagged it, gathered himself and finished at the rim with two seconds on the clock.
“As soon I saw the ball in the air my eyes got wide and I was excited because I knew I could get it,” Lewis said. “I knew I had time, so I wasn’t worried about the clock, just the finish. The whole team played great and won this one as a unit. Now it’s time to focus on our next one.”
New Rochelle moves on to play at North Rockland next Friday, while Ramapo will look to bounce back with a win when they host Pearl River on Wednesday.