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The walls were closing in on No. 26 Brooklyn College Academy. Center Jamaal James, who was so instrumental in the Bobcats’ run, had fouled out. Shooting guard Keyon Aigle, the star of the PSAL Class B playoffs, was uncharacteristically off target.
Fifth-seeded ENY Family Academy had momentum on its side, the result of a head-spinning 25-8 run. Everything the Bobcats had done right in building a 16-point lead had gone wrong.
It was the perfect time for Onyema Utti, an undersized power forward, to shine.
“When our luck is down,” co-coach Paul Wallace said, “he always comes up big.”
Consider Sunday afternoon’s ‘B’ final the latest example. Utti scored eight of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and added seven of his game-high 20 rebounds, leading the Bobcats (15-6) to the ‘B’ crown, 75-70 over East New York Family Academy at LIU’s Wellness Center, four years after the program was established.
“There was no way I was gonna let us lose,” Utti said. “Only God knows how happy I am.”
Said Aigle: “I was thinking about this last night, thinking of winning the championship, how great it would be, and it came out the same way I thought.”
Daquawn Moore led Family Academy (21-1) with 23 points and Kamil Brown had 16.
Aigle, who was named the game’s MVP, scored 24 points and added eight assists. Sophomore point guard Tarik Phillip followed with a triple-double of 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Yet it was Utti who made all 11 of his free throws, including six in the final stanza. It was Utti who singlehandedly kept the bigger Eagles off the offensive glass.
“He pulled his and Jamaal’s weight,” Aigle said.
The result was a wild celebration. Half of the school’s student body of 600 was in attendance, wearing white BCA Bobcats shirts – “Bobcat Nation,” senior Rasheem Mack called them – with a team photo and the words Cinderella Story on the back. At the buzzer, the Brooklyn school’s fans took over the gym. Hugs were handed out like candy. Cheerleaders stormed the court.
“It reminds me so much of when I had my daughter (Yashika),” co-coach Alicia Braswell said. “Two greatest moments of my life.”
Added Wallace: “Just one word: Amazing. I still can’t believe we did it.”
Said principal Nicholas Mazzarella: “It’s unified the school. To come from nothing and achieve this is fabulous.”
There certainly were tense moments. Moore’s basket at the end of the third quarter, which capped that 25-8 run, gave Family Academy a 56-55 lead.
There were seven lead changes in the final quarter, the last one coming when Utti hit two free throws with 2:30 left, making it 68-67 BCA. He followed with two more free throws and a basket to push the lead to five. After Simpson’s 3-pointer made it a two-point game, Phillip hit a free throw and Mack went coast-to-coast for a running left-handed layup, icing the game with 4.5 seconds to go.
“I haven’t been this happy in a long time,” Utti said.
The Bobcats haven’t taken to the Cinderella story. They felt a lengthy run was a possibility with the return of James, the 6-foot-5 center, and the continued development of Utti, Aigle and Phillip. If anything, however, the doubts, coming from such a low seed, fueled them.
Said Wallace: “I was kind of happy we were there because then we could prove ourselves. I definitely think we snuck up on people. They didn’t know the team we had.”
The entire city knows now.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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