Mike Taylor certainly wasn’t on a hot streak. The Boys & Girls basketball team’s pure shooting sophomore’s shot wasn’t falling. He had struggled mightily in his last three games, two of them losses, averaging barely over 10 points, well below his usual quota.
And against rival Thomas Jefferson Saturday night in the consolation game of the SNY Invitational, he took an ill-advised 3-pointer, which didn’t draw iron, with 18 seconds left on the shot clock, 35 seconds remaining in the game and the Kangaroos’ nursing a two-point lead.
After Orange Wave forward Joel (Air Jamaica) Wright scored inside to square the score at 55 with 25 seconds remaining, Boys coach Ruth Lovelace called a timeout. Taylor’s teammates told him “get the next one.” He though to himself, “I have to redeem myself.”
He did that and more.
Taylor sank the game-winning 3-pointer from the left corner as the horn sounded, the first buzzer beater of his promising basketball career, to send The High to a dramatic 58-55 win over Brooklyn AA rival Jefferson. It was the Kangaroos’ first win in three meetings with the Orange Wave, on national television no less, at a college arena, NYU in the West Village.
“Mike is a gamer,” Lovelace said. “He’s a special player. Every school, every team, is keying on him. A lot of people don’t face what he faces on a daily basis.”
Said senior guard Lamount Samuell Jr., who fed Taylor in the corner after driving into the lane: “I knew he was gonna make it. I saw the way he released the ball and his feet were set.”
Jefferson coach Lawrence Pollard felt the same way once he saw Taylor open. Autograph seekers who swarmed Taylor afterwards were closer to the talented underclassman than any Orange Wave defender.
“We’ve been preaching not to leave him open,” Pollard said, shaking his head.
Moments after Taylor’s heroics, the Kangaroos (15-6) were on the adjacent secondary court, joking and shooting around — all 19 members of the team, plus the four managers. They didn’t want to take off their jerseys.
“Everybody’s just happy we beat them,” explained Samuell, who had 20 points and seven rebounds. “They say third time’s the charm, so today was the charm for us.”
It didn’t seem like Boys would need to rely on a final possession early on. The Kangaroos built a 27-10 lead on the strength of a 23-2 run, fueled by four Anton Dickerson 3-pointers. He finished with 17 points and Taylor added 12 for Boys.
Jefferson (14-6), though, slowly chipped away at the lead, getting within eight, 34-26, by halftime. While the big three of Wright, Keith Spellman and Davontay Grace struggling offensively, role players Eric Turpin Jr. and Kyle Francis combined for 16 points and 15 rebounds, shining on the defensive end as well.
It was why the game turned into a white knuckler late. Turpin, in fact, gave Jefferson its first lead, 49-47, since 8-7 with 4:35 left in the fourth quarter. After two Tyler Young free throws and a Dickerson layup, Samuell scored back-to-back baskets to build the Kangaroos’ lead back up to four. Grace hit two of his own from the line and Wright, who struggled so mightily against Young, scoring a season low four points, got the game even, setting up Taylor’s memorable moment.
Adding to the shot, the game was aired live on SNY. His younger brother Brandon LeBron was home in Brooklyn taping the action. Taylor had never enjoyed such a moment despite all his high scoring performances, this year and before, on the JV level and on the AAU circuit. He plans to relive this one often.
“I’m gonna watch that,” he said, smiling, “every day.”