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March 29, 2009

Rice Nips Newburgh in State Title Thriller

GLENS FALLS, NY - It rattled around the rim, rattled around some more, then ricocheted up off the backboard.

But it still found its intended target, and Rice, on the brink of bitter disappointment, suddenly had another chance at a state title.

Durand Scott's jittery three-pointer eventually fell with 16 seconds left in regulation, tying Rice with Newburgh Free Academy, 63-63. The Raiders, who blew a 21-5 lead and trailed for much of the second half, proceeded to snatch the New York State title in overtime, 70-68.

After Rice obliterated Lincoln in the semifinals on Saturday, many expected the Raiders to steamroll the little known Goldbacks as well. And early on, Newburgh gave no indication that it would provide any stiffer challenge.

Scott hit a pair of threes and Kadeem Jack and James Stukes scored four points apiece during a 14-1 Rice run to begin the game. Not much later, Scott splashed his third three, giving the Raiders a 21-5 advantage with 1:50 left in the first quarter.

Newburgh, however, got five points from Michael McLeod in the last 1:18 and cut the Rice lead to 23-12 by the end of one.

The Goldbacks quickly built on that push in the second quarter. William Bouton hit a pull-up jumper from the foul line and Patrick Johnson converted a three-point play off an assist from Marcus Henderson.

McLeod drained a three to pull Newburgh within 23-20, prompting an explosion from the partisan crowd and a timeout by Rice coach Maurice "Mo" Hicks.

The Raiders scored the next three points, but Newburgh responded with six fast break points during an 8-2 run to tie the game at 28-28.

Rice tried to get separation the rest of the second quarter, but Newburgh kept the Raiders in sight, and the underdogs trailed just 39-35 at the break.

Four points from Johnson quickly evened the score to start the third. Rice took two-possession leads twice, but the Goldbacks responded both times. A transition lay-up by Damon Cousar off an assist from Henderson gave Newburgh its first lead, 49-48, with 3:49 left in the third. It was the Raiders' first deficit in their two Glens Falls games.

Rice would lead 52-51 after three, but the upset possibility was clearly very real.

"There was definitely a doubt there," Scott said. "They had the momentum for a little while. We started worrying."

Rice's worries looked to be plenty justified when Newburgh began the fourth on an 8-2 run, punctuated by a Henderson three that made it 59-54 Goldbacks with 4:33 left.

Stukes scored twice for the Raiders and a pair of free throws by Scott pulled them to within 61-60 with 1:29 to go.

Jermaine Sanders, who could get little to fall all game, missed a chance to give Rice the lead in the final minute. Then, within 38 seconds left, the Raiders failed to box out on a missed three by Bouton. McLeod scored easily on the putback to give Newburgh a three-point lead.

Sanders missed another three that could've tied the game, but Jack tracked down the rebound and passed it back out to Scott, who hit the clutch three that almost wasn't.

"I just had faith in my shot, as I always do," said Scott, adding "I think somebody from above helped me with that one."

Cousar and Johnson each had chances to prevent overtime on close looks, but neither could convert.

Rice scored the first four points of overtime, as Shane Southwell found Stukes and Sanders with terrific passes for lay-ups. Newburgh scored the next three points, but Sanders finally broke out of his cold streak with a huge three that gave Rice a 70-66 lead with 57 seconds remaining.

McLeod dropped in a baseline jumper with 42 seconds to go to halve the Raider lead. Newburgh coach Frank Dinnocenzio then elected not to foul Rice on the ensuing possession. Rice ran the shot clock down and eventually fumbled away the ball.

Cousar grabbed it as he was falling out of bounds and attempted to fling it downcourt, but Scott caught it. Because the ball changed possessions, the shot clock was turned off and Newburgh was forced to foul.

Sanders missed the front end of a one-and-one however, giving the Goldbacks one last chance with 5.3 seconds left. The diminutive Henderson quickly dribbled up to the three-point line and threw a head fake, catching Rice's Charles Fenner in the air. Henderson then tried to draw contact, but Fenner nimbly avoided Henderson, forcing a bad miss at the buzzer.

Scott led Rice with 23 points, while Stukes added 18 and Sanders chipped in 12. McLeod paced Newburgh with 22 and Henderson tallied 15.

The obvious question after the game was how Rice could crush a nationally strong team like Lincoln, then struggle against a relative unknown the next day.

"I think we came out a little too hyped for this game," Scott said, "because (Rice) didn't get a championship in a while."

"I didn't have to pick up the clipboard once yesterday," said Hicks, "but you can't play like that all the time. They're a young team and they have their ups and downs."

Narrow victory or no, Rice's players clearly appreciated every ounce of their state championship. Several players couldn't hold back their tears when they sat on the bench waiting for their medals.




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