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The High comes up dry in ‘AA’ semifinal loss to Mount Vernon

Boys & Girls strengths in winning back-to-back PSAL Class AA city titles has been its depth of scoring options and pressure defense.

They were weaknesses Saturday afternoon – the result of having just a nine-man roster after seven players were suspended for academic reasons or attendance issues by principal Bernard Gassaway – in a disappointing 70-63 loss to Mount Vernon in the New York State Class AA semifinals at the Times Union Center in Albany.

“It’s tough because we were shorthanded,” Rutgers-bound star guard Mike Taylor said. “If we were fully loaded, they would have no chance of beating us.”

That, of course, wasn’t the case. Boys & Girls (24-7) was without starter Jeffland Neverson, sixth man Anthony Hemingway and key reserves Teyvon Myers and Nkosi Brown, among others. Neverson was out, Boys & Girls coach Ruth Lovelace said, for failing a first-period class, which broke Gassaway’s rule for student-athletes. Myers’ average was lower than the principal’s liking and Hemingway, who has been dealing with “family issues,” Taylor said, was absent too often.

“Hopefully these guys will learn from this; it’s life lessons,” Lovelace said. “You don’t want to have anybody control your own destiny.”

Taylor led Boys & Girls with 23 points, but needed 20 shots to get there. Leroy (Truck) Fludd added 13 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks and Antione Slaughter had 11 points, but committed five turnovers. Jabarie Hinds notched 17 points for Mount Vernon (22-5), the Section I champion with five Federation crowns, and Khalid Samuels followed with 15.

The Kangaroos’ season isn’t over as they will face Winter Park (Fla.) and Duke recruit Austin Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers in the ESPN RISE National High School Invitational in North Bethesda, Md. on Thursday at 6 p.m.. Yet their hopes of a first Federation title faded with a flurry of missed free throws and a six-man rotation that left the players on the court “winded,” Taylor said.

Taylor misfired on nine of The High’s 14 at the line, but did hit three in a row to cut its deficit to just two with 1:12 remaining. Hinds made sure Boys & Girls didn’t get closer, getting past point guard Antione Slaughter and banking in a leaner. Taylor missed consecutive 3-point attempts on the other end to seal the loss.

“He loves the glass,” Mount Vernon coach Bob Cimmino said of Hinds. “At our home, we have holes in the backboard and can throw the ball real hard and he tries to do it whenever it’s possible.”

Fatigue didn’t play a role early on. Boys & Girls made four first-quarter 3-pointers – two by Taylor – and raced out to a 22-11 lead. At that point, however, Taylor picked up his second foul and Hinds caught fire. By halftime, the Knights had taken a 37-35 lead, an advantage they would never relinquish.

“The person we were missing a lot was Jeffland,” Taylor said. “He rebounds for us. He locks down the other team’s best player. I don’t Jabarie would’ve went off like that if he was here.”

Lovelace made sure her players were aware of their accomplishments afterward. No team, she said, could’ve overcome the obstacles, many of them self-inflicted, they faced this season. Slaughter and Hemingway missed five games in late December and early January for failing a first-period class midway through the season and Taylor missed six games, including a pair in the playoffs, for also failing his first-period class.

“I don’t know how many people would be in the situation we’ve been in all year long and still win a city title,” Lovelace said. “It was more impressive than [winning the title last year].”

Lovelace said she plans on speaking to Gassaway in the future about what can be done next year to avoid such problems. She will do more to make sure her players remain eligible by the school’s standards, but also said the hope is to have set rules by next September for student-athletes.

For now, the suspensions stand. A state title wasn’t in the cards, but an ESPN RISE National High School Invitational title is a possibility, however much of a longshot is may be. Boys & Girls still has just the nine players.

“We’re just gonna fight,” Taylor said about the showdown with Austin Rivers, “and try to win that game.”

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