Klay Brown didn’t start Abraham Lincoln’s semifinal game against George Westinghouse, but he sure did finish it.
The Christ the King transfer fought back cramps, scored 14 points, and made two of the game’s biggest hustle plays in the fourth-seeded Railsplitters’ 59–50 win over No. 8 George Westinghouse in the Public School Athletic League’s Class AA boys’ basketball semifinals on March 5. Railsplitters coach Dwayne “Tiny” Morton chose to sit the junior guard after he was late arriving to St. John’s University because of a mix-up with his ride, but the punishment only fueled Brown.
“I knew I had to perform,” Brown said. “My team needed me.”
Lincoln was without star guard Rakym Felder, who suffered a broken bone in his foot in the quarterfinals. Without Felder — who may also miss the title game against No. 2 Thomas Jefferson at Madison Square Garden on March 12 — it was Brown’s time to shine on both ends of the court.
He scored six points during Lincoln’s game-changing 17–3 spurt in the third quarter, helping to put the Railsplitters up 50–34 going to the fourth after it held Weshtinghouse without a field goal for nearly 7 minutes.
Brown blocked shots and hustled down a huge rebound with 2:15 to play in the game and Lincoln (23–7) up seven. Morton fully understands how important Brown’s night was to the team.
“I got to praise the kid from Queens,” he said. “He came late. I didn’t start him, but I think he is probably the reason why we are at the Garden right now.”
If Brown is the primary reason, his club’s defense is the second — the Railsplitters forced turnovers in key situations and fended off multiple Warriors’ runs in the backcourt.
Westinghouse (17–7) was within two points after a Gerald Williams (13 points) put-back with 6:53 to play in the third. The Warriors never got closer — mistakes led to Lincoln transition points each time Westinghouse crept close.
Warriors coach Everett Kelly was particularly upset his boys committed errors at half court or above the free throw line, giving his team little chance to get back on defense.
“Every time we made a run to try to get the game down to one-possession or so, we’d just turn it over,” Kelly said. “Where we are making them, it leads to transition baskets. It gave them an opportunity to attack us without being able to defend the transition.”
Akeem Tate chipped in 11 points for the Warriors, and Damarri Moore had seven.
Kelly’s team was able to limit its turnovers and withstand an early 13–2 Lincoln run. The Warriors got a big lift off the bench from Saheem Ferguson, who connected on his first three shots and scored eight points in the first quarter. A Ferguson trey with three seconds left brought Westinghouse within three at the end of the frame.
The Warriors came as close two more times in the second quarter, but the Railsplitters met the surges head-on each time. Brown kept Lincoln up 33–27 at half with a jumper and then a steal that led to a hoop from Donald Cannon Flores (10 points).
“Defense is out main priority,” said teammate Cahiem Brown (17 points), who is not related to Klay. ”It gives us easy baskets on offense. We get out there on defense, and offense just comes naturally.”
Lincoln is back in the final for the first time since it last won it all in 2013. And the task gets much tougher in the title game against Jefferson, even though the Railsplitters recently beat the Orange Wave 87–77 in the Brooklyn borough final. Lincoln, which finished third in the division, still feels like underdogs — especially with Felder likely out.
“Right now everyone is doubting us,” Klay Brown said. “We don’t have Jahlil Tripp and Rakym Felder. Everyone thinks we are still not that good.”