Lincoln has owned PSAL boys basketball across the last decade, winning seven city titles and nine division crowns. In that time, its only kryptonite was Boys & Girls’ loud gymnasium.
But the Railsplitters found the antidote Thursday night in a tough-minded senior (Shaquille Stokes) and poised freshman (Isaiah Whitehead) who did what Lance Stephenson couldn’t.
The duo led the Coney Island powerhouse to a confidence-building 62-60 victory over the nationally-ranked but shorthanded Kangaroos — who were without starting point guard Antione Slaughter and sixth man Anthony Hemingway for academic reasons — in front of a standing-room only crowd that included several media outlets and 15 college coaches.
“It’s a great win for everybody – from the guys at the end of the bench, to the starting five,” Stokes said. “Lance didn’t win here, so it feels good to be the team that did it.”
Stokes, the highly touted unsigned senior, scored 19 points and added six assists, but he had plenty of help from Whitehead, considered the next in a long line of Coney Island phenoms. Whitehead had 14 points – including Lincoln’s first two baskets of the evening when it seemed they may not make it through the first quarter – eight rebounds and four assists, making a difference in that understated way of his.
Despite battling foul woes, Kamari Murphy led the Railsplitters (6-0, 6-0 Brooklyn AA) assault on the glass – the final margin was 49-25 in Lincoln’s favor – with 10 points and 12 rebounds and Michael White had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“We have a big team, we got a lot of horses and they’re much smaller than us,” White said. “We had an advantage.”
Hofstra recruit Malik Nichols had 14 points apiece and Jeffland Neverson and Rutgers-bound guard Mike Taylor added 12 apiece for The High (6-1, 5-1).
Lincoln now stands alone atop Brooklyn AA heading into the holiday break, which is more important to coach Dwayne (Tiny) Morton than ending his losing streak in Bed Stuy. That, and his young players rising to the occasion in a much-anticipated showdown with a playoff-like atmosphere.
“We can play with just about anybody,” Morton said is what he learned about his club. “This is a good win, it’s for first place in probably the greatest league in the country. We all played good as a team, everybody stayed focused.”
Lincoln started slow, trailing 11-4 three minutes after the opening tip. But a 14-2 run to end the quarter stabilized the game and the Railsplitters never trailed by more than six the rest of the way. With Murphy and fellow forward White and Jordan Dickerson struggling to finish off plays inside, Stokes and Whitehead kept Lincoln within striking distance.
Boys & Girls opened up a five-point lead early in the third quarter, but Stokes answered with consecutive baskets. Whitehead’s pretty layup in transition early in the fourth quarter cut the Lincoln deficit to two before Murphy gave it the lead for good a few minutes later with a long jumper and tip-in of a Whitehead miss. Stokes added to the lead with two free throws and a running one-hander.
“Shaq played a great floor game,” Morton said. “He played the whole game, he was getting tired, but he did everything he could to win. I’m so happy for Shaq.”
Boys & Girls had two chances to tie in the final minute, but Nichols and Teyvon Myers missed contested 3-pointers. Neverson’s triple off the glass with 1.4 seconds left cut the deficit to one, but by then it was too late.
“Heart, we just had heart, we wanted to win more,” Stokes said. “We played great defense, everybody stepped up when we needed it.”
Morton played down the win’s significance, as most coaches will do in mid December. The game he wants to win is at Madison Square Garden in March, not in Bed-Stuy a week before Christmas. But his reaction when the clock hit triple zeroes spoke differently, the coach embracing Stokes at midcourt. If anything, the victory brought back Lincoln’s swagger, some of which may have been lost when it fell in the quarterfinals last year, ending a four-year reign atop the league.
“We always think we’re the team to beat,” Stokes said. “We’re still Lincoln at the end of the day.”