Antione Slaughter is almost too small to ride rollercoasters and he’s always the shortest player on the floor.
The senior, however, stood the tallest yesterday, leading Boys & Girls to its second straight PSAL Class AA boys basketball crown, 62-55, over rival Lincoln at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
He scored 19 points, eight in the deciding fourth quarter, and played lockdown defense – the 5-foot-4 pint-sized point guard’s specialty – on Railsplitters star Shaquille Stokes.
“Everybody is bigger than me,” said Slaughter, the game’s MVP. “I got to get as strong as them, I got to be quicker than them. I got to work extra hard.”
He was a menace to the Railsplitters on both ends of the floor. He had, perhaps, the game’s biggest basket, a running one-hander that pushed a three-point lead to five with 1:24 remaining and held Stokes, a leading Player of the Year candidate, to nine points on 2-of-13 shooting.
“I’ve always said he’s the best point guard in the city, hands down,” senior guard Mike Taylor said. “He takes pride in little things. He’s the best defensive player on our team, he hits the open 3, he wants 10 assists a game. He’s a little feisty kid – he wants to rebound and he’s only like 5-4.”
When Lincoln coach Dwayne (Tiny) Morton entered his press conference, Slaughter was still conducting an interview. Morton sheepishly smiled. Like Slaughter, Morton was an undersized point guard.
“I hope he got the MVP,” the coach said. “He killed us.”
Slaughter had plenty of help. Leroy Fludd, a Coney Island native who picked Boys & Girls over Lincoln after transferring from Grady following his sophomore year, torched Lincoln in the paint for 19 points and seven rebounds. The Rutgers-bound star Taylor had 14 points and Jeffland Neverson contributed eight points and six rebounds. Fludd, Taylor and Neverson were also active on the glass and in the lane, able to outquick the taller Railsplitters, particularly Fludd.
Freshman Isaiah Whitehead led Lincoln, which never led after the early going, with 18 points, but committed seven of his team’s 23 turnovers. Kamari Murphy had a strong fourth quarter and finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, but Lincoln’s size advantage didn’t pan out as imagined.
It wasn’t necessarily an easy year for the Kangaroos. Boys & Girls began the season nationally ranked by USA Today, it knocked off several nationally ranked foes in non-league and finished second in the prestigious Beach Ball Classic. Yet, it lost Slaughter, Fludd, Hemingway and Taylor for academic or personal reasons for stretches, lost twice to Lincoln and didn’t even reach the Brooklyn borough final.
Yet their confidence never wavered. Slaughter told Lovelace he was going to get another championship ring, but it would be white gold. When Lovelace grew concerned, they told her there was no reason to worry, that their experience and talent was enough.
“These guys just believed,” Lovelace said. “They had a will to win all year. This group was a little cocky. They would say, ‘You’re working us too hard, we’re seniors, we’ve been here before, we know what it takes.’”
They entered the playoffs the second seed, but were nearly picked off by No. 7 South Shore in the quarterfinals, down 10 points with five minutes remaining before Slaughter exploded for 12 fourth-quarter points. The semifinals against No. 3 Wings Academy was difficult, too, though the Kangaroos pulled out a five-point victory.
By contrast, the title game was a breeze. The Kangaroos led throughout, by as many as 10 points on two occasions and was able to empty their bench in the final seconds. Last year’s title run was emotional, the school’s first crown in 31 years. This second one was rewarding just the same.
“What makes it so special is we did have some adversity, we had some ups and downs emotionally when guys weren’t there,” Lovelace said. “But the two times Lincoln did beat us, it was close games and we had some of our stars not here. If we’re fully loaded, we’re the best team and it showed today.”