GLENS FALLS — With both teams fighting for a place in the New York state championships, second-seeded Shenendehowa rose to the occasion against the fourth-seeded Colonie Raiders, grinding out a win by a score of 43-40 Saturday night at the Cool Insuring Arena.
“There were so many unknowns heading into this season to walk in and say we’re going to win a Section 2 title,” Shenendehowa head coach Tony Dzikas said. “We’ve had three games where we just gutted it out… we stuck together as a team. That’s what it’s all about; survive and advance in March”.
Colonie senior guard and all-tournament team member Will Aybar opened up the scoring in the contest by knocking down a three just a minute in. Shen responded by going on a 9-0 run which entailed a three from MVP Chris Hulbert and six consecutive points from Abbas Merchant. The Plainsmen led just 11-7 heading into the second.
Colonie played very well throughout the second, especially on the defensive end as Shen’s only scoring for the entirety of the quarter came from a pair of Jake Reinisch free throws. After being down 9-3, their biggest deficit in the first half, the Raiders proceeded to go on a 19-2 run and lead by a score of 22-13 at halftime. Even when missing shots, Colonie players such as Isaiah Moll and Aaron Satin would fight to create second chances which the Raiders would convert on.
Colonie’s dominant defense was the reason why they led the Plainsmen after the first half. Shenendehowa had shot just 21% from the field in the first half, in addition to 12% from downtown. Hubert had made Shen’s lone three-pointer, and Merchant accounted for over half of his team’s points.
With their season on the line, the Plainsmen played a second half that showed everyone their desire to keep fighting on the grueling path towards winning a state championship. Hulbert was the first to kickstart Shen’s comeback, draining a three just 40 seconds into the half. After both teams proceeded to come up empty on their offensive possessions, Will Aybar attempted a long pass that just went past Moll’s hands to give Shen the ball back. Shortly thereafter, Colonie had a mental lapse and committed a backcourt violation to turn it over yet again.
“In the second half we started getting a couple steals, a few fast break layups and that’s where the game really started to change,” Merchant said.
The Plainsmen executed very well on both ends of the floor during the third quarter. They were able to hold the Raiders to just ten points in the quarter, with half of those points coming from Will Aybar. While picking up their intensity on defense, Shen was also able to attack Colonie with a 26 point outburst, ultimately outscoring them by 16 points in the third quarter.
During the earlier portion of the fourth, Colonie looked reminiscent of the team they were in the first half. Aybar continued his fantastic game by hitting a three to shorten the deficit a minute and a half in. He made another huge play where he seemingly came out of nowhere to get a steal in the passing lane, went all the way down the floor, and dished the ball to his brother Josh Aybar who converted the fast break layup. This bucket brought the Raiders to within two.
With Shenendehowa struggling to get the ball in the basket and about four and a half minutes remaining, it seemed as though something would get going when James Altenburger beat Moll on the drive and got a great look right in the lane. However, he missed the open shot. The Plainsmen were able to grind out a stop on the defensive end and then TJ Sangare scored his only points on the game with a drive to the basket at about the four minute mark. However, this basket proved to be crucial as any basket is late in a championship game.
Once again, Moll had pivotal late game free throws in a playoff game. While in previous games such as against Troy he proved to be very clutch, tonight was not the case. Heading to the line with 2:35 remaining shortly after a Satin three brought the Raiders to within one, Moll had the opportunity to give his team the lead or at least tie the game. Moll did neither as he missed both attempts. Merchant then did what he does best, getting to the lane and score on Shen’s next possession.
The Raiders then began to unravel. Although Colonie was picking up stops, every single offensive possession came up empty. The Plainsmen were missing their free throws as well, but the Raiders just could not hit that clutch shot they needed. This win brings the Plainsmen further along in their quest for a state title, and Merchant has high hopes for even though his team didn’t turn in the great offensive performance that they had previously done in the regular season.
“I feel like we have a bunch of kids that everyone doubts,” Merchant said. “Any given night we can have someone step up and we’ve got a bunch of scorers on this team. As long as we keep our heads up and stay confident, our shots will fall”.
They begin the state tournament with the regional final and will play the champion out of Section 3. The game will be played at Hudson Valley Community College on Saturday, March 10. Game time is set for 6:45 p.m.
Points: Abbas Merchant/Chris Hulbert 14
Rebounds: Abbas Merchant 7
Assists: Abbas Merchant 3
Points: Aaron Satin/Will Aybar 11
Rebounds: Isaiah Moll 9
Assists: Will Aybar 3