By Rob Potter
NEWBURGH March 7, 2003 The Fallsburg Comets are reaching new heights.
Fallsburg (16-5) moved into the quarterfinals of the state Class C basketball tournament with a victory over Section I champion Tuckahoe Tuesday night at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh.
But it certainly was not easy.
With scores of Fallsburg supporters packing the bleachers, the Comets fell behind early in the first quarter.
Down 28-20 at halftime, the Comets trailed by as many as 15 points midway through the third quarter.
But by stepping up its defense and relying on the clutch shooting of senior guard Jon Hinton, Fallsburg rallied to score a 51-47 victory.
Hinton scored the majority of his game-high 26 points from beyond the 3-point arc. He hit eight of 13 3-point shots in the contest.
Ironically, it was a 3-pointer from another Comet that sealed the win. Clinging to a 48-47 lead with 37 seconds left in the contest, Fallsburg passed the ball around as the Tuckahoe players made sure none of the Comets got a clean look at the basket.
The ball ended up in Brandon McKennys hands while he was between the 3-point line and the out-of-bounds line and closely guarded by one of the Tigers. With the shot clock ticking down to one second, Fallsburg Coach Paul Marsden yelled to McKenny to shoot the ball.
The senior center did just that and the ball rattled off the rim and through the net, giving the Comets a four-point lead and sending the dozens of Fallsburg fans into a frenzy.
I just tossed it up and it went in, said McKenny, who finished the game with 12 points and 12 rebounds. It was my first 3-pointer ever.
Even though they trailed from the early minutes of the game until the 2:46 mark of the fourth quarter when Zaquan Hilliard scored in the lane, McKenny noted that he and his teammates remained calm.
Offense wins games and defense wins championships, thats what our coach told us, McKenny said. We just focused on not making any more mistakes. And defensively we stepped it up at the end.
With the win, Fallsburg moves on to face Long Island Champion East Rockaway in the Class C quarterfinals. That game takes place tonight at 7 p.m. at SUNY Old Westbury.
I told them at halftime that we had three games of great team defense, Fallsburg Coach Paul Marsden said. And in the second half, we played good, strong defense.
That team-first mentality was a key component for the Comets during the Section IX tournament and it continued versus Tuckahoe (20-5).
Jon was on fire from 3-point land, Brandon had some key rebounds and Zaquan [Hilliard] made some good blocks, Marsden said. It was a great team effort tonight.
This is the first trip to the state quarterfinals for Marsden, who has been coaching at Fallsburg for 10 years.
Ironically, Tuckahoe prevented him from reaching that milestone when the Tigers beat the Comets back in 1993 in an opening round game of the Class D tournament.
The Tigers were led offensively by Brandon Weldon, who scored 19 points, and Jamal Webb, who netted 14 points.
We missed some key shots at the end, Tuckahoe Coach Dennis Kirkland said. They grabbed the rebounds when they needed to and made some great shots.