Time Out: March 12, 2014

It’s a fact of life but in every basketball game somebody has to lose. That reality is magnified when two championship teams square off in the New York State Basketball Tournament. Every year in every high school basketball, two great teams come together one short week after floating on air having captured a sectional basketball crown.
For a basketball fan, the state tournament is often the ultimate roundball theater. That was the case on Saturday at the Event Center on the SUNY Binghamton campus. The opening game pitted two great teams and two of the top high school female basketball players in New York State, Emily Durr and Mariah Ruff.
Mariah Ruff and Emily Durr are friends. They are AAU teammates. And, they are fierce competitors, team leaders, and remarkable basketball players. Last season it was Ruff’s Oneonta Yellow Jackets who would edge Durr’s Notre Dame Crusaders to reach the Final Four. Saturday an experienced Notre Dame team would turn the tables. With the score deadlocked, and less that one minute on the clock, ND reeled off the final six points of the game rewriting the script almost exactly as it played last winter but in the opposite direction.

Leading the way
It was Durr and Ruff who led their teams through the handshake line at the conclusion of the game. The mutual admiration and respect they share was part of a long embrace at half court.
“We know Oneonta is a great team and we knew they were going to fight back,” Durr told the Daily Star when explaining how the Yellow Jackets erased a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit, tying the game at 44-44 with just over one minute to play. With a player like Mariah Ruff, you knew they were going to make a run. She had a tremendous game. We were teammates in AAU and I wish her luck. She’s the best player I’ve played against.”
Durr will play at Division I Iowa State next winter with Ruff taking her game to Division I St. Bonaventure.
It almost seemed impossible that Saturday’s nightcap could match the intensity and basketball dramatics of the girls’, Class B Regionals. Impossible became reality when two undefeated Class B boys’ powerhouses, Norwich and Westhill, did battle.
It was a magnificent basketball show. No more than four points ever separated these two talented teams. The rosters of both teams were sprinkled with very skilled basketball players, but in the end, Westhill’s junior guard Jordan Roland’s game rose to another level. Roland scored 12 points in the final period, including the final goal in regulation to tie the score and force overtime. Roland added six more of his 24 points during the added period.

Keeping it close
Even then Westhill could only gain a three-point separation from the Purple Tornadoes. When Norwich coach Tom Collier called time out he had just 4.4 seconds left in overtime with which to diagram a game-tying, three-point chance. Collier did just that, using multiple screens to shake Norwich’s leading outside shooter Zan Stewart free at the top of the key for a stunning final attempt at the basket. Stewart’s shot caught iron twice before bounding away as the horn sounded signaling the end of a one-of-a-kind basketball encounter.
Four great championship basketball teams. Two teams advance with dreams of a state championship dancing in their heads. Two teams go home temporarily disappointed but satisfied they gave their all in coming a whisker short of reaching an improbable basketball goal. Four teams understanding basketball moments like the ones shared in Binghamton on Saturday could not be enjoyed without a worthy opponent, and adversary sharing the same goals as you, an opponent who understands that in the end, one win or one loss doesn’t reflect an entire basketball career.