By Will Sammon
Anthony Mason was the guardian angel. He was the extra guy on the court. He was the inspiration. He was the motivation.
That’s how the Springfield Garden boys’ basketball team and coach Angelo Buono said they felt after the second-seeded Golden Eagles captured their first PSAL Class A championship since 1983 with a 58-54 win against top-seeded Frederick Douglass Academy at Baruch College March 22.
Mason, the former NBA All-Star with the Knicks who died from congestive heart failure Feb. 28, was the leader of that team from 32 years ago.
Interestingly, players said this season’s triumphs after Mason’s death were not a matter of happenstance.
“I feel like it was destined to happen,” said Daniel Kissoon, who scored all 12 of his points in the second half.
Mason was on the team’s mind all throughout the run.
“I felt like it was all for him. He was like a teammate on the floor and it was like a big advantage,” said senior Karim Diouf, who scored 13 points. “It was like six to five. We got an extra teammate and it was him.”
Mason, throughout his high school and professional playing days, was known for his grittiness, toughness and willingness to do whatever it took to get to the rim,to do whatever it took to secure a loose ball, to do whatever it took to win.
That style of play was showcased by his former school in the second half.
Kissoon, who averaged 15 points per game this season, was held scoreless at halftime with the score knotted at 24-24. The junior persevered after the rough start and changed the game in the third quarter. He scored nine points to help give Springfield Gardens (26-3) a 41-33 lead at the end of the third.
Jaylin Montalvo (20 points), however, kept FDA (27-2) in the game. His free throw cut Springfield Gardens’ lead to 42-40 with 5:45 left in the fourth quarter.
Guard Daniel Charlton then recovered a loose ball and hit an open three-pointer from the left wing with 5:11 remaining. Ian Howard — who played extremely tough in the paint alongside Joel Boyce (12 points) — then converted a put-back to give the Golden Eagles a 47-40 lead.
“That,” Charlton said, “was the game-changer.”
Montalvo cut the deficit to 49-46 with a short jumper, but Kissoon answered with a long trey with 2:31 left in the game to push the lead back to six points. Afterward, FDA never got closer than four.
Springfield Gardens (25-4) will face Albany Academy in a New York State Federation Class A semifinal March 27 at UAlbany. Players expect their “angel,” “inspiration,” and “motivation” that is Anthony Mason to be present with them on their next step.
“A couple of people have mentioned that he could be an angel on our shoulder,” Buono said. “Well, if he is there on us, Anthony, we’ll take you, baby.”