Tough talk in the locker room did the job.
The No. 3 James Madison girls basketball team got off to a sluggish start in the Public Schools Athletic League “A” division championship game at Baruch College on March 18, but after a halftime tongue-lashing from their coach, the Lady Golden Knights turned things around and took down the No. 1 seed, Lab Museum United, 59–40.
“I honestly said, ‘That’s the worst half of basketball we’ve played all year,’ ” James Madison coach Richard Tighe said. “I told them that Lab wanted it more than us. They were rebounding, getting offensive rebounds and I said, ‘in the second half, you better go out and prove that you want to win this.’ ”
Madison and Lab Museum both struggled on offense throughout the first half, notching more empty possessions than either squad expected in a championship matchup. The Lady Golden Knights led by just two points at the half, and their coach sensed that something had to change — quickly.
“It was more mental than anything,” Tighe said. “We missed so many layups and part of that comes because we’re a young group of kids and playing in our first city final. You could see they were nervous.”
The Lady Gators opened the third quarter with a quick bucket, but that was as much as Lab Museum would get in the period, as Madison pushed the tempo, set them back on their heels and went on a 16–0 run.
The Lady Golden Knights took 41–22 lead into the fourth quarter, controlling play in the final eight minutes of regulation. Junior center Ketsia Athias gave James Madison a 20-point lead with 5:54 left to play.
“We needed to win,” said Athias, who hauled in 15 rebounds. “We came this far and we didn’t come this far to lose.”
The key for the Lady Golden Knights in the second half was the way the squad fought for loose balls, crashed the boards on missed shot attempts, and refused to fall prey to any more meaningless possessions.
“The first half we struggled a little bit, we didn’t communicate that well,” Athias said. “And then in the second half we came together, we communicated and we accomplished our goal.”
James Madison will face off against two-time defending champion Staten Island Academy in the first round of the Federation Tournament in Glens Falls this weekend. It’s uncharted territory for the squad, but the Lady Golden Knights are certain they won’t need another halftime speech to find motivation. They’ve got their sights set on another title.
“The way this group came together, it’s kind of a special group,” Tighe said. “The thing when you go to Glens Falls is everybody is good, so we’re going to have to play better basketball.”