They say, the third time’s a charm. After losing both games against Coney Island’s top-ranked powerhouse Abraham Lincoln during the regular season, Boys & Girls High School showed it still was New York City’s best basketball team when they downed Lincoln 62-55 in the finals Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, claiming the PSAL City Championships title for the second consecutive year.
But Boys & Girls High School basketball coach Ruth Lovelace also knew it wouldn’t hurt to make sure her team was fully loaded: For this championship game, she had her top-two players -- seniors Antione Slaughter and Mike Taylor -- back on the same court for the first time against the Brooklyn rival.
And as her players and fans rushed onto the Madison Square Garden court to celebrate the victory, Lovelace said she wasn’t surprised by the result.
“I felt like if we had everybody on the court, we’re the best team and it showed,” said Lovelace, the only female coach to win a PSAL boys basketball championship.
Slaughter and Taylor combined for 14 of the team’s 19 fourth-quarter points, including a perfect 10 for 10 on the free throw line.
Slaughter, who finished with 19 points and 3 steals, won the game MVP and earned praise from Lincoln’s coach Tiny Morton.
“Two words. Antione Slaugther,” said Lincoln coach Tiny Morton. “The little guy was the general today and he dictated everything on offense, on defense.”
“You always got to have heart and that’s one thing I have,” Slaughter said. “As the smallest guy on the court, I got to work harder. Everybody’s bigger than me. I got to be stronger than them, I got to be quicker than them.”
In addition to Slaughter and Taylor, who finished with 14 points and four steals, the Kangaroos got a big performance from undersized center Leroy Fludd, who scored 19 points and four steals against one of the city’s best front courts.
As a team, the Kangaroos played opportunistic basketball, converting 23 turnovers, including 14 steals, into 28 points. Shaquille Stokes, Lincoln’s top scorer was held to nine points on 2-11 shooting.
Isiah Whitehead led Lincoln in scoring with 18 points.
But despite trailing for most of the game, the Railsplitters refused to go away. Lincoln clawed its way back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to within three points with under 5 minutes remaining.
The Kangaroos responded down the streatch with a perfect 8 for 8 from the free throw line, scoring 15 points in the final five minutes, and finishing up 24-33 from the line on the day.
“We don’t make a lot of free throws, but tonight they learned a lesson on how important free throw shooting [is],” said Lovelace.
With back-to-back titles, Boys & Girls have at least matched Lincoln as the top high school basketball program in New York City, if not surpassed it. Before last season, Lincoln had won five straight titles. This year, they returned to MSG playing the best basketball of any team this season, poised to reclaim its spot.
“We prepared wrong for this game,” Morton said. “We were worried about the wrong things. They weren’t focused.”
But Morton dismissed the notion of Boys & Girls as a worthy rival and offered a parting shot at his counterpart.
“I think having 23 turnovers and them shooting 33 free throws, and us losing by five or six, she got lucky,” Morton said referring to Lovelace.
After the game, Boys & Girls players hoisted a portrait of the late Frank Mickens, the former principal for more than 20 years who is credited with turning the school from an educational wasteland into a safe haven for learning.
He also hired Lovelace in 1993 in her second year of teaching at Boys & Girls. Lovelace, who was 23 at the time and a high school standout for the girls team in the 1980s, wasn't sure she even wanted the job.
“I don’t sit here today with two championships, I don’t make history without Frank Mickens,” Lovelace said. “He was beyond his time because he saw this moment for me when I didn’t even see it myself.”
The Kangaroos season isn’t over yet. They advance to the New York State Championship tournament, which begins next week.