In running through the PSAL to its first boys basketball city championship in 43 years, Midwood relied on two specific assets: Avoiding mistakes and having the best player on the floor.
Neither was the case last Friday night in its New York State Federation Class A semifinal against St. Mary’s (Manhasset). Bryan Smith, the Hornets star guard with several Division I scholarship offers, missed 14 of his 17 shot attempts and scored just seven points. Midwood committed 20 turnovers, though it seemed like much more.
And now the Brooklyn school is headed back home after a deflating 67-44 loss at the Times Union Center in Albany.
St. Mary’s senior Chavaughn Lewis, not Smith, was the best player on the court. He scored 30 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out four assists. Smith, meanwhile, committed 10 turnovers and made just 1-of-6 3-pointers, one of his strengths.
“They identified him, they sent a lot of guys at him, they were physical on him and it showed in his performance,” Midwood coach Victor Gjecaj said. “St. Mary’s had a lot to do with it.”
Center Enees Nikvoic was Midwood’s lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal night, scoring 16 points and grabbing 17 rebounds.
Midwood (28-4) started off shaky against full-court pressure from St. Mary’s, committing unforced turnovers against token pressure. As the contest wore on, the press picked up and the Hornets seemed to tire.
This wasn’t a case of not being talented enough to hang with the high-powered Gaels. Midwood trailed by just 30-28 at halftime after closing the second quarter strong and after falling behind by as many as 15 poiints, the Hornets were within seven entering the final stanza. But Lewis started the fourth with five straight points, Midwood never got the deficit into single digits again and Smith fouled out midway through the frame.
The problem ultimately were all the turnovers, often at crucial junctures, leading to 27 St. Mary’s points.
“I’m not taking anything away from St. Mary’s, but I feel like we beat ourselves today for sure,” Gjecaj said. “I felt a lot of the turnovers were on us, especially early. In the beginning of the game it was nerves and at the end of the game it was fatigue.”
Though bitterly disappointed, Gjecaj made sure his players understood this lost didn’t define their season. He told them to keep their heads held high, be proud of the Brooklyn A South regular-season crown, the appearance in the Brooklyn borough finals and the long-awaited city title.
“We had a magical season,” he said, shortly after finishing his 13th season.
Smith led the charge, with his 28 points-per-game average. He set a school record with 68 points in a league-opening rout of James Madison and led Midwood back from a 13-point, third-quarter deficit in an ‘A’ quarterfinal victory over Brooklyn Collegiate.
“What school gets Bryan, is going to be very, very lucky,” Gjecaj sadi. “The kid’s a great player, but the thing about is that’s scary is his upside is really high. He has a lot more to improve on.”