Doug Porter never thought twice.
The moment the whistle blew and the referee put up three fingers, signaling the second foul on South Bronx star Dashawn Joyner just 3:28 into the PSAL Class A semifinal, Porter called his point guard over to the bench. Joyner tried convincing his coach otherwise, but Porter didn’t listen.
Inside, he wasn’t so certain.
“I was nervous,” Porter said.
Collectively, the sixth-seeded Phoenix put his mind at ease. They built a 14-point lead by halftime without Joyner and coasted to a 74-52 victory over No. 18 Brooklyn Tech at Lehman College in The Bronx.
“The game was about the team today,” said Joyner, who scored 10 of his team-high 14 points after halftime.
Indeed. Luis Sanchez had 13 points, five rebounds and five assists, undersized forward Jonathan Sanchez held his own in the paint, adding 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Elijah Huggins also had 11. Jaquan Mullins followed with nine points and sophomore Robert Lloyd had eight, including seven in the fourth quarter, to help the Phoenix pull away.
“We wanted to show they had to guard more one person,” Rivera said. “We all knew we had to step it up.”
Rivera was particularly important, battling inside against Brooklyn Tech’s 6-foot-7 forwards Kherel Silcott and O’Shane McRae. The 6-foot-4 senior blocked shots, did damage in the paint and on the perimeter.
“Jonathan played big today; best game in a long time,” Porter said. “When Jonathan plays well, we’re tough to beat.”
South Bronx led 7-4 with 4:34 left in the first quarter when Joyner went to the bench. Brooklyn Tech initially responded with four straight points, but the lead would be short-lived. Rivera got his first bucket inside, igniting an 11-5 run to end the opening stanza. The differential was 37-23 by halftime and 51-27 after Joyner sank his first and only 3-pointer of the afternoon midway through the third quarter.
The Engineers (13-6) never quit, going on a 13-0 run. South Bronx, however, methodically pulled away from there. Lloyd, an underclassman who has seen little playing time, started the final frame with a basket in the lane and added a conventional three-point play to push the lead to 12 a minute later. Rivera put a nail in Brooklyn Tech’s coffin with a 3-pointer from the left corner, extending to a 68-50 lead with 2:01 remaining.
“I told the guys all week they only prepared for Dashawn and that’s a huge mistake,” Porter said. “We had guys ready to step up when they needed to. We always knew we weren’t a one-man team. That’s why this is such a fun team to coach. I just don’t want it to end.”
South Bronx (27-3) as a one-man team wasn’t the only myth the Phoenix busted on Sunday. Known for their frenetic, up-and-down style of play which led to eight, 100-point games, they also played exceptional defensively on Sunday, repeatedly turning Brooklyn Tech over with a full-court press and closing out on the Engineers’ shooters.
“We’re not just a run-and-gun team,” Sanchez said.
While the Phoenix celebrated their berth in next Saturday’s city championship game, Brooklyn Tech left The Bronx with watery eyes. After missing the playoffs each of the last four years, however, this was a remarkable run, longtime coach Stephen Gigliello said, which included upsets of No. 2 Francis Lewis and No. 6 Martin Luther King Jr.
“From where we were – nobody knew about us – to making the final four, and beating a lot of good teams, our heads are held high,” Gigliello. “We had a great season. And even in the end, we played hard.”