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Friday, March 7, 2014

Falcon's Nest Notes: A Well-Oiled Machine; JV Boys Headed to the Chanmpionship

Louis Zarif runs Flatbush's precision offense
On the biggest stage of the season so far, the JV Boys Basketball team put together its most complete performance of the year. As a result, the Falcons took down their heavily favored visitors from Riverdale, 50-39, to advance to Sunday’s MYHSAL JV Boys Basketball Finals at Yeshiva University.
Abie Rosow battles for the rebound
SAR’s JV boys came in to the YoF High School gym supremely confident, and why not? The last time these two teams met, the Sting came away with a lopsided 38-25 victory in which they dominated the Falcons in nearly every aspect of the game. On that night, the teams were playing for an outright championship, that being the Tier II title of the Emunah-Rubenstein JV Tournament. And, that fact was not lost on this SAR team. They clearly attempted to drive this point home by taking the court for pre-game warm-ups clad in the yellow shirts and kippot of the tournament, a not-so-subtle reminder of the results of that December night. But the team they would face last night in Brooklyn was a different animal than the one that took the court much earlier in the season in the Bronx. That team did not have the services of post players David Dayan and Abie Rosow, and Jake Shalom was not near 100%, clearly under the weather. But most significantly, these Falcons now benefitted from the additional 2 ½ months of practice time and divisional competition to hone their skills, become exceedingly familiar with a new system, to meld as a unit defensively and to develop completely as a team. It was a team transformed, a now practiced instrument – a well-oiled machine, ready to spring. And, the fans –having arrived early to fill the Flatbush section to overflowing, were equally primed and ready.
The Falcons defense closes off the passing lanes
Like the quarterfinal round against HANC, the Boys from Flatbush knew it was important to establish an offensive presence early and to equally demonstrate that they would battle for every rebound, every loose ball; that SAR would have to work on every possession just to get a decent look at the basket. The Falcons came in with a game plan, and executed it perfectly right from the outset. Flatbush opened the scoring with a big 3-point basket from Kevin Haddad deep in the corner by the SAR bench. And, Louis Zarif would follow soon after with a brilliant drive and elevation through the tall trees of the Sting interior defense, one of many Flatbush drives that would keep SAR on its heels and the fans out of their seats over the course of the game. The message was clear; these Falcons would not be intimidated. For most of the opening quarter, Flatbush dominated play, working the ball on offense for open looks, and kicking it back out to the guards when a good shot did not immediately present itself. As a result, the Falcons built a small cushion. But while SAR did begin to collect fouls as a result of overplaying the Falcon guards in an attempt to loosen the ball away, the Sting demonstrated a propensity for knocking down the long-range jumper. It was the “3” that kept them in the game early, and as the 1st quarter neared its close, SAR had knotted the score 12-12 on four 3-point baskets. But scoring at the end of a quarter is always key; it is why a team often looks to “hold for one” at the close. It is a momentum swing. And the Falcons did just that, with Kevin Haddad bookending the scoring in the period by finishing off a slicing drive to the hoop as the clock wound down, bringing his teammates and the crowd to its feet, fists pumping and towels waving, and giving the home team a 14-12 at the first break.
Jackie Mishaan prepares to steal the in-bounds pass
The second quarter brought substitutions. And while the personnel changed, the mission and execution did not. If anything, the guard play of Louis Zarif, Kevin Haddad, Jake Shalom and Joe Cayre under the pace and leadership of Co-Captain Elliot Beyda intensified. This crew maintained control of the ball for extended time during each offensive possession, demonstrating patience derived from a confidence in the system and trust in the execution of teammates. While not always leading to easy baskets, it achieved two goals: it worked away time on the clock while maintaining the lead and it created an enormous amount of frustration on the part of SAR’s players.
Kevin Haddad looks to grab one of his 8 rebounds
In complement to the disciplined play of the Flatbush backcourt, the play of Flatbush’s two reserve centers proved to be a game-changer. SAR believed entering the game that while they could shoot well from outside, they would hold a distinct height advantage and be able to score at will inside. David Dayan and Abie Rosow (in his first action in months, with time spent in recovery of a severe lower leg injury) dictated otherwise. Denying entry passes to the low post and contending everything in the lane, SAR could not mount any kind of sustained attack, being forced to settle for long range bombs and often finding their possessions to be of a one-and-done nature, with Jackie Mishaan, Dayan and Rosow corralling rebound after rebound. And what the big men did not collect, the diminutive guard Haddad pulled in (Haddad collected an amazing 8 rebounds on the night!).
Louis Zarif hits a key free throw to help seal the victory for Flatbush
Like the first quarter, the signature play of the period came with the seconds ticking away and was provided by Jackie Mishaan. Playing in control and moving smoothly all half, with the clock under :10 seconds, Mishaan took the ball near the top of the key, cruised to his left and elevated. At the height of his jump, he released a clean jumper that fell cleanly through the net just before the horn called the end to period 2. Bringing the crowd noise to a crescendo, the Falcons took a 25-20 lead into the half, along with all the momentum in the room.
The third quarter would provide the telling stretch of the game. SAR, clearly stunned to be training at the half, began to show desperation in pressing on their offensive possessions, while also trying to up the pressure on defense. All the while, the Falcons continued to show patience on offense, running a mix of backcourt weave and corner pop-outs that were reminiscent of the kind of ball-control offense that would have made iconic University of North Carolina Coach Dean Smith proud. Another key move was the shifting of Forward Albert Richter from the power forward position, where he yielded significant inches to his SAR counterpoint, to the small forward position, where his physicality let him outplay his SAR opponent. As a result, rather than close the gap, the Sting found themselves in a deeper deficit at the end of the period, with the Falcons holding a 10-point advantage heading to the final period.

The final stanza brought more of the same, with SAR scrapping to get back in the game and Flatbush answering by methodically working the ball on offense, eating away at the clock and answering every Sting basket with one of their own. Whether by hitting a mid-range jumper, a driving lay-up or an interior put back off a rebound, Flatbush countered every SAR attack. And down the stretch, when SAR had no recourse but to put the Falcons on the line, the Boys from Flatbush showed that what was once a liability is now clearly a team strength. Knocking down free-throw after free-throw, and creating empty possessions for SAR when the Falcons only managed one-of-two from the line, Flatbush closed out the Sting. With the final buzzer, the home crowd spilled out onto the court, joining their JV boys in celebration of a victory that was assuredly the result of the most complete game put forth by the team all season long.

Nest Notes:
The victory sets up a Championship match-up with DRS this Sunday on the court named for the legendary basketball coach Johnny Halpert at Yeshiva University in Manhattan’s Washington Heights. Tip-off is scheduled for 1:00 pm. All spectators will be required to purchase a ticket for the game. All seats are $7.00 at the door.

For the Falcons, the team was led by Kevin Haddad who netted 14 points and pulled down 8 rebounds. Jackie Mishaan scored 11 points, including a perfect 3-3 from the line. Defensively, Flatbush yielded 9 three-pointers, but held SAR to only 4 two-point field goals on the night – an outstanding performance by the Falcon interior defense!