They were teammates who formed the starting backcourt on the St. Dominic freshman team and were AAU teammates for Team Buckets since the fifth grade. Saturday, they were chest-to-chest, nose-to-nose, in-your-face opponents in the biggest game of their high school careers.
They weren't matched up against each other for the entire game, but when it mattered in the fourth quarter, seniors Shaq Mosley of Uniondale and Brandon Williams of Baldwin went mano a mano. "Crunch time," Williams said, with a sigh of exhaustion and a smile of exultation.
Williams scored 18 points, including seven in the fourth quarter, as Baldwin outlasted Uniondale, 57-53, in the Class AA Nassau County championship game before a large crowd at Hofstra. Mosley scored seven of his 22 points in a furious final period but couldn't prevent the Knights from losing their first game of the season after 19 victories. The Bruins are 18-2 and face Suffolk AA champ Floyd on Saturday at Hofstra at 2 p.m. for the Long Island AA championship and a berth in the state tournament in Glens Falls.
"He's a great player and he was outstanding again," Williams said of Mosley. "I love playing against him."
Williams drove past Mosley twice to score during a 12-1 run that gave Baldwin a 50-38 lead with 2:31 left. "I thought we had it under control," Williams said.
Uniondale thought otherwise. Mosley converted a steal into two free throws, made a tough baseline drive in traffic and nailed a long three-pointer as the Knights stormed back. With Williams on the bench, having drawn his fifth foul with 1:13 left, Uniondale had cut the margin to 53-51 with 38 seconds remaining.
"The worst feeling in the world," Williams said of having to watch the frantic finish.
Mykeil Tzul, who assumed the primary point guard duties with Williams out, finally ended a free-throw drought. The Bruins had missed 10 foul shots in the fourth quarter, aiding Uniondale's comeback. But Tzul hit his last five to close it out.
"Close games are great for the crowd, but not for the players," Williams said.
Tzul had to deal with the crowd when he stepped to the line with the Bruins leading 53-51.
"The crowd was going nuts, but I tuned it out," said Tzul, who scored 10 points. "I was calm and I shot with confidence. I knew I missed a free throw that cost us a game against Roslyn earlier in the season. I've been shooting a lot more free throws after practice. This is very sweet."
It was very bitter for Mosley, who missed two hurried three-balls in the final 30 seconds but who was the key to the Knights' late rally.
"We didn't take care of the ball and we missed free throws," Baldwin coach Darius Burton said. "Then Shaq showed why he's one of the top players around."
Burton called the play of center Kirk Staine "unbelievable. He neutralized [Kenny] Woodard." Staine had 10 points and eight rebounds and held Woodard to 10 points, just one in the fourth. Kyle Richardson, though he missed four straight free throws during that tense fourth quarter, had six blocked shots, including two huge ones late, for the Bruins.
"I had confidence in everybody and I kept telling them, 'just believe,' " Burton said of Baldwin, which was playing in its sixth straight county championship game but had lost the previous three.
One of those believers was Williams, who also contributed six assists and four steals. "Even when I was on the bench, I believed we'd get it done. It was our turn."