Dwayne (Tiny) Morton must have felt like he was in an alternate universe when he walked into the Madison Square Garden multipurpose room Sunday afternoon.
Used to hoisting trophies and being the center of attention, when he walked into his postgame press conference, reporters were still interviewing Boys & Girls point guard Antione Slaughter and coach Ruth Lovelace. He was asked his first question as two reporters had their backs towards him and interrupted his answer.
Morton hesitated, not used to such a predicament, just his second loss in nine trips to the Garden. His team had a similar deer-in-the-headlights look, never able to find its rhythm in a frustrating 62-55 loss to Boys & Girls in the PSAL Class AA crown at the Garden.
If it wasn’t 23 turnovers, it was an inability to protect their defensive glass or star Shaquille Stokes struggling in a horrid shooting display. Boys & Girls built a 10-point lead in the second quarter and never lost the edge, though Lincoln did get within three on a few occasions.
Despite its size advantage, Lincoln outscored Boys & Girls just 30-28 in the paint and gave up 18 offensive rebounds. Hounded by Slaughter and frequent double teams, Stokes shot 2-of-13 from the field, missing his trademark 3-point shots, while freshman Isaiah Whitehead scored 18 points and Kamari Murphy added 15 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks.
“It was team defense, Slaughter directed him into the middle. We didn’t kick it out for enough shots,” Morton said of Stokes. “He played his heart out. He did what he thought he was supposed to be doing: shoot the ball, make plays, just didn’t work out his way.”
The Kangaroos had an appropriate answer at every turn, whether it was a steal, made basket or defensive stop, repeating as ‘AA’ champions. Slaughter had the game’s biggest basket, a floater in the lane with 1:24 left to push a three-point lead to five.
“Two words: Antione Slaughter. Antione Slaughter couldn’t get rattled,” Morton said. “The little guy was the general today. He dictated everything on offense and defense. He played an excellent basketball game.”
More than anything that happened on the court, Morton said the Kangaroos experience of getting to the Garden was a valuable advantage. His six seniors’ mission was to return to MSG, whereas the Kangaroos expected to be there and leave victorious. When the two teams previously met in the ‘AA’ final, in 2007 and 2008, it was Lincoln who had that experience.
“Boys High’s been to the Garden last year and most of those guys were focused and more ready,” Morton said. “Our guys were just about coming to the Garden, not worrying about finishing the game off. Boys High beat us. Preparation before the game wasn’t good.”