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Van Buren eliminated by Clinton, 49-40

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But even with its bizarre sub-plots, the main story line in the...

By Dylan Butler

The first round playoff game between Van Buren and Dewitt Clinton Friday was the PSAL’s version of the Twilight Zone, where home teams are not home and retired coaches are not retired.

But even with its bizarre sub-plots, the main story line in the Governors’ 49-40 win over the VeeBees at Cardozo High School was Clinton’s height advantage in the frontcourt.

Van Buren had no answer for a Clinton front line that consisted of 6-foot-8 George Washington-signee Anthony Lalor, 6-foot-5 Tyrone Spann and 6-foot-5 Damarr McBean. The trio gave the Governors several second-chance buckets and held the VeeBees to several one-and-done trips down the floor.

“They limited us to one shot and they were playing volleyball [on the offensive glass] and it gave them more opportunities to score,” Van Buren head coach Perry Dortch said. “With [6-foot-5] Mark [Ifill, sprained ankle] out, it hurt us. They outrebounded us.”

No. 14 Van Buren (20-5) wore the home uniforms for the game, but the Cardozo gym has been anything but friendly for the VeeBees, which has not won at the Bayside school in Dortch’s four years as head coach.

And Dortch and company were none too happy to have to play their “home” playoff game away. The school informed Dortch early last week the gym would be unavailable for their lone home playoff game because of last minute construction.

“I think [playing at home] could have helped,” Dortch said. “We know our court, the kids feel comfortable on it.”

Meanwhile, while No. 19 Clinton (18-7) knew they would be on the road, they thought they would be there with head coach Bobby Finkelstein. But when Finkelstein informed the team last Wednesday he could not attend the game because of a family commitment in Florida, the Governors were left without a coach.

Clinton Athletic Director and football coach Ed Gardella took the reins, but help also came from an unlikely source — recently retired Edison head coach Floyd Bank. Bank, a longtime friend of Finkelstein, volunteered his services for his alma mater.

“I’m basically a total stranger to these kids,” said Bank, who joked after the game if he should be credited with his 551st career win. “I was born and raised in the Bronx and I went to Clinton for 3 and 1/2 years.”

Finkelstein is expected back for Clinton’s second round game against No. 3 Boys and Girls Feb. 28 at Lehman College. Bank said he would be back helping his friend out on the bench.

Even though he didn’t know too much about the Clinton team, Bank did offer some very valuable words of advice for the Governors before the game.

“The key was [VeeBees senior guard Josh] Puello,” he said. “We have to focus on Puello and limit his touches.”

Clinton did just that, as Van Buren’s leader never truly got into a flow. Unable to establish an interior game, Puello and the VeeBees were forced to attack the Clinton 2-3 zone from the outside in. Puello finished with just six points and forced several shots in his final high school game.

“I think he wanted to do too much, but he’s done it before,” Dortch said. “He’s taken the ball and practically done it all by himself, but sometimes the shots fall and other times they don’t."

Trailing 29-22 with 4:42 left in the third quarter, Puello picked up two blocking fouls in less than 30 seconds. With four fouls, Puello sat for a crucial 6:21 span.

“They did a good job of forcing me to the middle and their big guys did a good job of coming up,” Puello said. “They wore our big guys down. They boxed out and got rebounds.”

Clinton extended a 20-17 halftime lead to 35-28 after three quarters. While Clinton effectively neutralized Puello, Van Buren double and triple teamed Lalor, the Governors go-to player. But when Lalor (12 points, 10 rebounds) missed a contested shot, it was Spann who was there to score on the open putback.

“Every game, we know [Lalor] is going to be double- and triple-teamed,” said Spann, who led Clinton with 20 points and nine rebounds. “Somewhere I knew I’d have some easy layups.”

Van Buren trailed 37-30 in the fourth quarter, but rallied to tie the game at 37 on a three-pointer by Melvin Jackson with 5:10 left. But the Governors outscored the VeeBees 12-3 down the stretch, including 8-for-9 from the line to clinch the game.

Campus Magnet 64, Erasmus 58. Devon Ray had 27 points, including 23 of his team’s final 25 points, to lead No. 8 Magnet past No. 25 Erasmus last Thursday. Elvis Belone had 17 points and Mike Simonds added 16 for the Bulldogs (19-4), which face arch-rival Cardozo March 1 at Hunter College in the second round.

Cardozo 54, Telecommunications 45. Darryl Hill scored 20 points and had four assists and Dana Townsend added 13 points and 10 boards for the ninth-seeded Judges (19-6), who outscored No. 24 Telecommunications 18-3 in the third quarter.

Midwood 67, Bryant 65. Akim Neverson and Ernest Ducena scored 18 points apiece for No. 16 Midwood (18-7), which survived a late run by No. 17 Bryant (21-4).

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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