Manhasset boys basketball falls in county title game, won’t defend state title

Manhasset boys basketball falls in county title game, won’t defend state title
Manhasset's Liam Buckley drives in for a shot against South Side during Saturday's Class A championship game at Hofstra University. Photo credit; Sixto Sanchez.

The run had to end sometime, but that didn’t make it any easier to swallow for the Manhasset boys basketball team.

For two years they’d won nearly every time they walked onto the court. A county title, a Long Island championship, and a state title completed a dream season of 2021-22, and this season the Indians dominated all comers, losing just once in 23 games.

But Saturday night at Hofstra’s David Mack Center, a hungrier, more aggressive team knocked Manhasset off its throne.

With a near-perfect second half, South Side wrested the Class A Nassau County title away from Manhasset, pulling away for a 57-46 victory, ending Manhasset’s season.

“Losing is part of the game,” Manhasset head coach George Bruns said. “Really, I think they just out-physicaled us. They beat us up. When we got on the boards, we didn’t really take advantage. We had some shots early that went in and out.”

“They were hungrier and wanted it more, after last year,” said Manhasset senior James Notias. “They played harder and better than us.”

South Side entered the game having won 22 consecutive contests after losing its season opener, and came out like it had something to prove to the state champs.

Manhasset (22-2) had a tough time getting any offense going in the first quarter, with senior leader, guard Liam Connor held scoreless in the opening frame.

The Cyclones raced out to a 16-6 first quarter lead, as the Indians looked completely out of sync, and the hundreds of South Side fans cheered uproariously.

“We’ve had games like this, a few times this year, where we fell behind and it took us a while to settle down,” Bruns said.

Manhasset beat South Side by 23 points in last season’s semis en route to the state championship, and finally started to settle down in the second quarter.

Instead of settling for long jump shots, Manhasset started getting the ball inside against the Cyclones’ 2-3 zone defense.  Connor sank his first field goal with 3:25 left in second quarter, capping a 12-2 Manhasset run that got them back within 18-16.

At halftime it felt like a completely different game, with the Indians getting more loose balls and trailing by just a point, 23-22.

“We were the happier team at halftime because we started hitting the middle more on the zone, and getting the ball down low,” Notias said. “We felt like, down 1, we were right where we needed to be.”

Manhasset took the lead on a Connor drive 28-27 midway through the third quarter, but that was as good as it would get. The Indians had won nearly all their games by double-digits this season, with only two of their 22 victories had come by fewer than 10 points in 2022-23.

So perhaps playing in a tight game Saturday was unfamiliar for Manhasset. As the second half wore on the frustration built, as South Side started to pull away.

“I think definitely it was a factor,” Notias said about the lack of close games. “The competition we played throughout the season was a little weaker. But we still had our chances tonight.”

A 6-0 spurt late in the third quarter gave South Side a 37-30 lead, and Manhasset looked gassed. The physical defense of the Cyclones seemed to be taking a toll, and the Indians sank only two 3-pointers for the game.

In the fourth period, the Cyclones continued their 14-2 spurt as forward Josh Garelle muscled inside for layup that pushed the edge to 41-30 with 6:16 left, and Manhasset couldn’t get closer than eight points for the rest of the game.

Liam Connor finished with 15 points and five assists to lead Manhasset, while Notias added 14 points and five rebounds.

Liam Buckley had 7 points and nine rebounds as well for Manhasset.

And so a two-year run that put Manhasset basketball back on the map came to an end. In the hallway outside the arena, the Indians players hugged and consoled each other, looking around at a group that accomplished so much.

“Manhasset hasn’t been known for basketball, at all,” Notias said. “We’re lacrosse, lacrosse, lacrosse. But I definitely feel like this group has made a big impact, making Manhasset basketball be known.”

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