Mike Taylor didn’t have to read the newspaper or surf the Internet to hear the doubters. They came to him – in the form of classmates – predicting a Lincoln blowout everywhere he went: in class, in the school’s hallways, even the cafeteria.
“They said (Lincoln) was gonna kill us and Lance (Stephenson) was gonna go off,” the sophomore recalled.
“Watch,” Taylor told them.
The Kangaroos’ play spoke loudly enough. Behind a balanced effort led by Taylor, Boys beat Lincoln, 71-61, in Bedford Stuyvesant for the third straight year Tuesday night in PSAL Brooklyn AA action.
Stephenson, the nationally known college prospect, got his points – 37 of them and the Railsplitters’ first 12 – but the Kangaroos shut down everyone else. Only senior forward James Padgett finished with Stephenson in double figures, scoring 12. Darwin (Buddha) Ellis, the sharpshooting guard, didn’t score, still battling a broken left pinkie finger.
Sophomore guard Shaquille Stokes, in his return from a school-mandated five-game suspension for disciplinary reasons, had eight in the first half but none after. Key role players Davon Walls, Raymond O’Loughlin and Anthony Allen were scoreless.
“For me and my coaching staff and my kids, we knew we could win this game,” Boys coach Ruth Lovelace said. “My kids really feel like they belong. They don’t lay down for Lincoln. Other people might lay down for them.”
“We made them work hard on defense,” she added, “we got back in transition and we limited our turnovers.”
The Kangaroos (9-4) had five players score at least 10, led by Taylor, who tallied 19, hitting five 3-pointers. Senior forward Tyler Young followed with 17, 11 in the fourth quarter, and 15 rebounds. Anton Dickerson added 13 points and Lamount Samuell Jr. had 10 points and 10 assists to go along with 10 points and 10 rebounds by Leroy Isler.
“That’s what’s good – it shows you’re a team,” Lovelace said. “Different guys can step up.”
Over the final three quarters, a different Kangaroo took charge. Taylor almost singlehandedly kept Boys within striking distance by knocking down three 3-pointers, one longer than the next. Dickerson, the senior guard who struggled for much of December, broke out after halftime, hitting a pair of treys and scoring eight altogether in the stanza. The final quarter belonged to Young, only a reserve at this time last year.
“I watched him over the summer, so I’m not surprised,” Ellis said.
In that case, maybe Lincoln will guard him next time. Time and again, the Railsplitters (7-4) left him alone at the free-throw line extended, making sure to hug shooters Dickerson and Taylor on the perimeter. Repeatedly, he made them pay, drilling the low-arcing shot and soaring in for a pair of dunks. He scored seven consecutive points at one juncture, offsetting Stephenson’s barrage of jumpers and dunks.
“I hit my shots and I stepped up,” Young said, “but my teammates did also.”
Indeed, it was an all-around effort by The High, a team many felt would be overmatched against the three-time defending city champions. While the two squads have met in the last two city championships, Boys graduated basically its entire team. The only holdovers from that group were such reserves as Dickerson, Young, Devante Cutler in addition to Taylor, who led the JV in scoring last year, and Samuell, a transfer from Adelphi Academy.
“It showed today we belong,” Lovelace said. “Don’t overlook us anymore.”
The Kangaroos were obviously not fearful of Lincoln, particularly the precocious sophomore. Stephenson scored the Railsplitters’ first 12 points, the last two on an emphatic dunk after he picked Taylor’s pocket to build an early eight-point lead. The one-handed slam wasn’t enough however. The 6-foot-5 guard roared in glee, his face inches from Taylor’s. The underclassmen didn’t back down, responding with a flurry of feathery jumpers.
“I’m not going to change my game,” he said. “It didn’t have (an) effect on me.”
Neither did the barbs from his schoolmates, many of whom were in attendance to eat their words. Taylor said he wouldn’t seek them out in school Wednesday. The win was retribution enough.
“I’ll just look at them and smile,” he said. “We proved everybody wrong.”