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Friday, February 14, 2014

Falcon's Nest Notes: Playoff Fever Hits Flatbush

Albert Richter shows off the rally towels handed out to fans in the Falcons' Nest
If you thought the first match-up between Flatbush and Magen David was a classic, then the rematch can only be called one for the ages. With their seasons’ on the line, the cross-borough rivals took to the court at Flatbush for the second time in a little over a week, this time with the winner advancing to the quarter-final round of the MYHSAL playoffs – and the loser going home. It proved to be a game in which the regulation 32 minutes would not be enough to determine a winner. An overtime period would be required, and that extra stanza would provide the home Falcons the additional four minutes it would need to secure a two-point victory, 51-49, and a re-match with Heschel in Manhattan. But, the fact that there would even be the prospect of overtime seemed an enormous reach based on the first 38 minutes and 30 seconds of play.
Packed Falcon's Nest 
Before the start of the contest, the stands were a sea of gold, as the Falcon’s Nest was ablaze with “Rock the Nest!” rally towels! The giveaway to the Flatbush faithful was the brainchild of Sophomore JV Co-Captain Albert Richter. And while he was hoping to have them on hand for the JV playoff opener later this week, the mailman had a surprise, and they arrived just in time for the Varsity game. With the fans slowly filing in, the starters for both teams were introduced to cheers from their respective supporters, and again the crowd rose with respect as Flatbush student Janet Chrem hit all the big notes in the Star-Spangled Banner and Hatikvah. With the preliminaries properly dispensed with, it was time for the players to take center stage.
Janet Chrem wows the crowd;
team manager Noam Menashe looks on
Right from the opening tip, it was clear that both teams came in with a define game plan. Flatbush elected to start a “small” squad, but one that comprised the best outside shooters statistically on the season. Along with its pressure defense, the Falcons hoped to take advantage of the soft spots it found in the MDY defense last time around. To counter, MDY went tall, electing to pack in the zone and play to their height advantage while hoping to minimize the fouls that piled up the previous outing that ultimately led to their late downfall in the Sackin Classic. It was a defense that challenged the Falcons to beat them from the outside – far outside.
Falcon Co-Captains N. Haddad and M. Shalom
go over ground rules with their MDY counterparts
The Pressure Cooker
From the outset, defense reigned supreme. For nearly two and one-half minutes, the teams sized each other up, exchanging possessions with neither team able to register a point and with the Falcons surprisingly controlling the rebounds, until Michael Haddad got the Falcons on the board with a 3-pointer from deep in the corner that brought the first ripple of cheers from the Flatbush faithful seated behind him. Again, the defenses played tough, and while Flatbush enjoyed a number of good looks at the basket, they could not capitalize, and at the halfway point of the first quarter, the Warriors tallied the equalizer from outside. In fact, Flatbush could only convert on one of its first seven shots, all virtually uncontested from the outside. The Falcons could only muster one more basket in the quarter, and they found themselves trailing the Warriors 7-5 at the close of the opening stanza. It was clear at least on the offensive end that Flatbush was feeling the pressure of being the favorites, and that MDY appeared to have a loosey-goosey attitude, playing with a level of comfort and ease that often goes hand-in-hand with the underdog label.
Nathan Haddad calls out the offensive set
By this point, the stands were filled to capacity, with spillover into both corners and in the balcony above. As good as the defenses were in quarter one, the intensity was amped up even more, with both teams feeding off the energy of the crowd. And, it was a knowledgeable crowd. The fans of both teams exalted with each basket made by their side, recognizing that each possession was precious, that the referees were letting the players play (not a great amount of fouls called overall) and that each basket was key in a game that looked to be a low-scoring contest. With both coaches rotating players in to keep the pressure on and the legs fresh, the two squads played even in quarter two, and the teams went into the half with Magen David holding on their precarious lead by a score of 18-16.
Nathan Haddad flies to the basket
Live by the 3, Die by the 3
A hallmark of the Falcons Boys Varsity season has been the squad’s ownership of the third quarter. From the pre-season games and onward, the Flatbush Boys have shown a propensity for digesting what their opponent presents in the first half, and exploiting it in the second half. But that stalwart aspect deserted the Falcons here. At the start of half number two, the Warriors quickly ripped off two straight baskets while the Falcons came up empty on their opening possessions. In fact, the Falcons “O” was stone cold. All the while, the Magen David offense showed patience, and began knocking down “3’s” slowly building a comfortable cushion, while the Flatbush five could not buy a long range basket. In a period the Falcons have owned all season, their offense deserted them. For the period, all Flatbush could muster was a Joey Dweck mid-range jumper and three free-throws; one from Joey Dayon and a pair from Nathan Haddad. When the dust had settled, the Warriors outscored the Falcons by a score of 14-5, and found themselves staked to a nearly insurmountable 11-point lead at the end of three quarters of play.

Momentum Swing
One thing a follower of this year’s edition of the Varsity Falcon Boys Basketballers would surely know is that no matter what the outlook, this team never thinks it is out of it. Every one of the 15 players on the roster truly believes that if there is time on the clock, Flatbush can win. True to form, the Falcon’s opening possessions of the final quarter netted a traditional 3 point play from Nathan Haddad and a 2-point basket from Murray Mizrahi. MDY responded with a two of their own to push the cushion back to 8. And while the Falcons amped up the pressure again on defense, they just could not close the gap and get over the hump. For all their confidence and their never-say-die attitude, the Falcons looked dead and buried.
Joey Dayon's 3-pointer sparks the Flatbush comeback late in the 4th quarter
Maybe it is inner fortitude, maybe it is enormous heart or maybe it is an internalization of the lessons learned from playing in three early-season tournaments, but these Falcons just refused to believe their season was about to end. And neither did their fans! With chants from the crowd of “F-L-A-T Bush, Bush, Bush!” the home supporters were Rockin’ the Nest, waving their Richter rally towels, urging their “Boys” to find a way. True to form, they did just that. With a mere 2:30 left to their season, the Falcons rose up behind clutch long-range shooting. Recognizing a change in the defense, Senior Joey Dayon saw and opening, elevated and drained a three right in front of the Magen David fans. Following a defensive stop, Buddy Setton, uncharacteristically cold all night, finally found the bottom of the net hitting a three of his own. With the defense holding yet again, the ball found its way to Joey Dweck and he, too, drilled a three from in front of the Falcon bench bringing his teammates – and the Falcon faithful in the stands – to their feet. With 1:38 now left on the clock and the Warriors calling for time, the Falcons had climbed all the way back to tie the score at 43-all! In the blink of an eye, the momentum had swung a complete 180 degrees, and the weight that seemed to hold the Falcons down all night had clearly shifted to the backs of the Warrior players. With yet another defensive stop, the Falcons now had the ball with a little over a minute to play. Working the weave, the Falcons looked to hold the ball for the final shot, and the Warriors were content to let the game rest on the success or failure of that shot. With 10 seconds to play Nathan Haddad worked towards the hoop, saw a seam, penetrated and elevated – and looked to have been fouled. But, no call came from the officials. Murray Mizrahi pounced on the loose ball and directed it towards the basket as the buzzer sounded, but it bounced off the rim and at the end of regulation the score stood 43-43.
Murray Mizrahi and the fans go wild after the Falcons tie the score at 43!
Defense Reigns Supreme
OVERTIME! With a renewed confidence, the Falcons took the court for an additional four-minute period to decide who would move on, and who would go home. And, once again, the teams both ratcheted up the defense. And it was the defensive end that would find Senior Co-Captain Michael Shalom at the center of what turned out to be the play of the game. With the score still tied and 1:30 to play, Magen David’s big center Aaron Harari took the ball near the Warrior bench, put his head down and headed towards the basket for the go-ahead hoop. But Shalom read the play from the opposite side of the court. He quickly stepped in to the lane, established position, and took the full brunt of the drive from Harari. The referee’s whistle sounded, and with both players lying on the floor in a heap the official signaled a charging foul on Harari. Shalom popped up, his fist pumping, and the Flatbush faithful rocking! With the ensuing possession, the offense worked the ball and when it got to Joey Dweck, he calmly drained a mid-range jumper. At the 1:10 mark of overtime, Flatbush had its first lead of the game since they led 3-0 early in the first quarter! With both teams in the bonus, Magen David was fouled and went to the line to shoot free throws. They missed both. Murray Mizrahi came down with the huge rebound, was fouled and drained both to put Flatbush up by four with under a minute to play. The ensuing possession saw a Warrior drive the baseline and hit the basket while also drawing a foul. The made free-throw cut the lead to one. Buddy Setton then went to the line, hitting one of two to push the margin back up to two with 21.6 seconds left on the clock. The tension in the gym was palpable, and the floorboards reverberated with the Flatbush faithful’s exhortation of “De-Fense, De-Fense!” And once again, the defense stepped up. Buddy Setton corralled the missed Magen David shot, hit Nathan Haddad with the outlet who was then immediately fouled. With the Magen fans screaming at the tops of their lungs, Haddad calmly sank both shots to put Flatbush up 50-46. After another MDY miss, Joey Dweck grabbed the rebound, and hit one of two from the charity stripe. In a last-ditch effort to come back Magen David sank a deep 3-pointer to close the gap to 2, but only 1.0 second remained after calling their final time-out. Flatbush successfully inbounded the ball, the buzzer sounded, and there was pandemonium on the home floor! The Falcons had come all the way back from the netherworld to record a shocking 51-49 victory, and advanced to the quarter-finals of the MYHSAL playoffs.

Nest Notes:
Nathan Haddad led a balanced Flatbush scoring attack with 13 points on the night, including shooting 7-9 from the free throw line. Joey Dayon followed with 9 points (3-4 on free throws). Joey Dweck added 8 points, and scored the only Flatbush field goal in the overtime session. Buddy Setton, Michael Haddad and Murray Mizrahi registered 6 points each for the Falcons

With the victory, the Falcon Varsity will travel to Manhattan for a quarter-final match-up with the Heschel School. Heschel defeated the Falcons in their one meeting earlier this season, in Brooklyn.

Due to inclement weather, the JV Boys Basketball playoff opener scheduled for Thursday, 2/13, has been postponed. The JV team will open the playoffs next Thursday, 2/20, with an 8:00 pm tip-off against yeshiva Rambam. Once again, rally towels will be handed out to all Flatbush students in attendance. GO FALCONS!