Maybe it was the forthcoming challenge Tuesday against Brooklyn AA powerhouse Thomas Jefferson or just one of those off days all teams go through, but Midwood wasn’t at its best Saturday afternoon.
The Hornets were sloppy and not playing with its usual intensity on the defensive end and as a result, held just a one-point lead over Columbus near the end of the third quarter of the PSAL Class A Showcase at Long Island City High School in Queens.
Even when Midwood isn’t at its best, though, it has a weapon – senior guard Bryan Smith – no other ‘A’ team can claim. The highly recruited Smith closed out the victory with a flourish, scoring 12 of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter as the Brooklyn A South champion pulled away for a 72-64 victory.
“We didn’t play the way we’ve been playing the last few months, but it’s good to know we cannot play our best and still win,” Midwood coach Victor Gjecaj said. “But we can’t do that again.”
With a 23-2 record and 16 straight victories, the win over Columbus, the Bronx A East champs, goes a long way to sealing the top seed in next week’s PSAL Class A citywide playoffs.
“We knew it was important, but when you haven’t lost a game in a long time, you assume you’re gonna win,” Gjecaj said.
Smith was integral in a 14-1 run that blew the game open. He hit a pair of 3-pointers, scored inside and set up a few teammates for baskets.
Midwood’s supporting cast, which had played so well of late, wasn’t nearly as productive. Center Enees Nikovic was held to 10 points and Elijah Chambers, a sophomore recently called up to the varsity, added five. Chambers and Emmanuel Joseph, in particular, have been important to the Hornets’ continued emergence, adding to the Brooklyn’s team depth. The duo, along with the 6-foot-8 Nikovic and combo guard Erick Laurore, prevent the opposition from sending too many double- and triple-teams at Smith.
“We’ve been working since October, working so hard,” Nikovic said. “We feel like the title belongs to us and we’re out to prove it.”
It is clear Smith is the driving force behind Midwood’s remarkable regular season. In 14 league contests, he averaged 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and scored 68 points in a season-opening victory over James Madison.
He was told if he wanted to play Division I basketball he had to leave Midwood by many people, but he stuck it out, and now has offers from Fordham and Hofstra. Clemson, UNC-Charlotte, College of Charleston, LIU, Siena and Iona are also very interested. Instead of joining one of those Brooklyn schools, Smith has a chance to knock one off on Tuesday when Midwood visits Thomas Jefferson in the Brooklyn borough quarterfinals.
“We’re just gonna play our game, play hard, try to get the win,” he said. “We’re not gonna be afraid because of the team’s [reptutation]. We’re still gonna play our game.”