GUILDERLAND CENTER, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Albany Academy boys basketball team faced a tall order Saturday in the semifinals of the Class A Federation Basketball Tournament of Champions at Guilderland High School. The Cadets, who hadn’t played a game since Feb. 18, were matched up with arguably the hottest team in Class A: Sec. I’s Tappan Zee.
The Dutchmen, ranked third in the state, were just one week removed from claiming the NYSPHSAA Class A state title, and entered the day winners of nine straight games. But Academy head coach Jim Driggs clearly had his team prepared. The Cadets touched up Tappan Zee for 59 points, the most points the Dutchmen have allowed in a game this season, en route to a 59-55 victory, earning a spot in Sunday’s Federation Tournament championship game.
Academy showed few signs of rust in the early stages, knocking down three shots from beyond the three-point arc in the first quarter to take a 13-8 lead.
The long balls continued flying for the Cadets to open up the second frame. Junior forward Arthur Foster hit his first of two triples on the day at the 6:33 mark, extending Academy’s advantage to eight points at 18-10.
Shortly thereafter, Tappan Zee start showing why it was a state champ. Sophomore guard Tommy Linehan began attacking the interior of the Cadets’ defense, scoring at will in the paint. With just over five minutes to play in the second quarter, he scored a lay-up, picked off the ensuing inbound pass, and netted another quick deuce, capping a 6-0 burst that brought his team back within two points.
The Dutchmen would get the deficit down to as little as one point. Then, with 1:25 to play before halftime, Albany Academy’s senior star Robert “Bobby” Chandler came away with a steal, and turned that into a fast-break dunk at the other end for what proved to be the final points of the second quarter, and the Cadets took a 26-23 edge into the locker room.
But it was all Tappan Zee coming out of the break. It rattled off a 9-2 run to start the half, capped off by three free throws from Linehan.
Just when it appeared the Dutchmen had seized the momentum, Albany Academy responded in a big way with a 7-0 run of its’ own, and the Cadets reclaimed a three-point lead, 35-32, heading into the final stanza.
And in that fourth quarter the Academy offense erupted for 24 points. Tappen Zee managed to stay within two possessions for much of the quarter, but then Academy senior guard Gianni DiCerbo poured in a deep trey ball with just under three minutes to go in the game, extending the margin to eight points at 48-40, and the Cadets managed to salt the game away at the free throw line from there, securing the 59-55 victory.
Chandler led the way with 15 points, and after the game, he praised Academy’s level preparedness for a talented Tappan Zee squad that posed a bevy of challenges.
“We felt prepared, honestly,” said Chandler. “They’re a tough team, especially since they have guys who can shoot it. And if they didn’t hit shots, they were running you off the baseline. So, it was really, like…you can’t guard ’em; we gotta pick our poison. And it was just an overall dogfight, so I’m just glad we got the win.”
DiCerbo and freshman forward Cyrus Matia joined Chandler in double figures, both scoring 11 points.
Coach Driggs recalled the challenges his team was having with Tappan Zee when the Dutchmen made their push to take the lead at the outset of the third quarter, and what it took to overcome those challenges.
“They have the ability to kinda lull you to sleep,” said Driggs. “That’s a credit to them. I mean, that’s who they are, and they’re really good at it. So, I just said, “Hey, we gotta speed them up.” So, we started to press. I thought that helped us, and our guys did a good job executing that. And we had a couple big buckets from key guys, lay-ups – we got to the rim. Just really happy for our team.”
Albany Academy awaits Monsignor Farrell out of the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association in Sunday’s championship game. The Lions are the second-ranked team in the state for Class A, and knocked off top-ranked Transit Tech 55-47 in the second semifinal game. Opening tip-off from Guilderland High School is slated for noon.