Darren Nickelson put the pressure on Hewlett Tuesday and, after the final seconds ticked off the clock, he didn't mind putting some of that pressure right back on himself.
"I feel like South Side is the best team out there," Nickelson said after the Cyclones' 57-46 win over the No. 6 Bulldogs in a Class A boys basketball semifinal. "We're going to take it."
After his team's showing at SUNY-Old Westbury, it's certainly hard to question Nickelson's confidence. No. 2 South Side, the highest remaining seed after Lawrence's quarterfinal ouster, took the lead with 5:30 left in the first quarter and never trailed, though it did allow Hewlett to make it close in the second half.
"We made a lot of bad turnovers," Nickelson said. "We had to get our groove back . . . A lot of that came from me pressuring the guards, making them turn the ball over."
South Side (18-2) led by 10 and seven after the first and second quarters, but saw that lead cut to four in the third. The Bulldogs drew to within 45-40 on Avery Feldman's layin with 4:20 to play before South Side broke away in the final two minutes, going 8-for-9 from the foul line. The Cyclones went 16-for-23; Hewlett went 4-for-15.
But where Hewlett (13-5) faltered on foul shots, South Side struggled with turnovers -- allowing 11 steals, six by Weldon Irvine, who scored 11 of his game-high 19 points in the first half. He was held scoreless in the fourth quarter.
Nickelson, who had three steals, had 16 points and five assists. Ryan Spadaford led South Side with 18 points. The Cyclones will take on No. 5 Jericho at 2 p.m. Saturday at Hofstra in the final.
"We got sloppy in the second half," Spadaford said. "And in the beginning, I wasn't mentally in the game. I had the coaches get on me in the second half, telling me to hit the boards more, don't settle for three-pointers, go for the high-probability shots."
And apparently there was a trick to opening up the lane, Spadaford said. "We just put the pressure on them."