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GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — At Tappan Zee practice on Wednesday, coach George Gaine gathered his players around for yet another motivational pep talk. He’d already shown them the movie “Hoosiers” (which some players didn’t really like) and, in prepping for four-time state champ Jamesville-DeWitt, he’d already exhausted every underdog and “us against the world” metaphor he could think of.
All Gaine had left to draw on was reality.
“You’re not 6-10. You’re not going Division I,” Gaine yelled as he pointed to each player. “But guys, we can do this.”
Practically nobody outside of that circle gave the Dutchmen a chance against a Jamesville-DeWitt team that featured two-major Division I-bound big men. Yet Tappan Zee responded Saturday with an inspiring effort and pulled one of the biggest upsets in New York State tournament history.
Tappan Zee shocked Jamesville-DeWitt, 55-46, at the Glens Falls Civic Center behind a jaw-dropping second-half performance from guard Pat Peterson. The senior scored 28 of his 31 points after the break, becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer in the process and landing the Dutchmen in Sunday’s state title game.
“I knew that we believed,” Gaine said. “We put the bags on the bus this morning and it was a surreal feeling. Pat (Peterson) wanted to unpack the bags. That’s what this came down to.”
Peterson had an epic second half, turning a five-point halftime deficit into a one-point lead to start the fourth. He had 15 points in the third quarter — including three hotly-contested 3-pointers. In the fourth, he drained a long 3 to put Tappan Zee ahead 43-40 with seven minutes left. They never gave the lead back.
“Nobody is more scrutinized or under a microscope more than Pat Peterson,” Gaine said. “To put Pat in a nutshell, that (record) was about his teammates, his buddies, the community at TZ.”
The Dutchmen (25-0) outscored Jamesville 15-6 in the final seven minutesPeterson sealed the victory with four free throws in the final 20 seconds and finished 9 of 18 shooting from the field. Peterson was 7 of 13 from 3-point range, tying the single-game Class A state final four record.
A completely stunned Glens Falls crowd watched a wild celebration as time expired as Tappan Zee moves on to Sunday’s final with Long Island champ Harborfields.
“This is the greatest experience,” Peterson said. “We knocked off another defending champ.”
But this was not just any defending champ. Jamesville lost two games this season — to national powers DeMatha (Md.) and Milton (Ga.) and boasts Dajuan Coleman, a 6-foot-10 senior headed to Syracuse who’s considered the nation’s top high school player. The Red Rams also have 6-foot-9 senior Tyler Cavanaugh, who’s headed to Wake Forest.
The duo had their moments on Saturday but were relatively shut down by a Tappan Zee team that has nobody over 6-foot-5. Eric Casey did an incredible job on Coleman, holding him to one field goal in the first half.
Coleman had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Cavanaugh had 10 points and eight boards. The tandem came into the game combining to average 42 points and 38 rebounds per game.
Tappan Zee did it by constantly changing defenses, but always double-down on Coleman when he got the ball in the block. It flustered the big man, who was only 4 for 11 shooting from the field.
After a raucous postgame in the Tappan Zee locker room, the Dutchmen insisted they always believed the upset was possible.
“Me personally, I don’t look at this is as a huge upset,” Peterson said. “Anyone can beat anyone on a given night. We just played really well.”
Harborfields (22-2) will be another brutal task for the Dutchmen as they search for their first ever state title. Harborfields is ranked 19th in the latest MSG Varsity Tri-State poll and was the runner-up to Jamesville last season.
“We are going to celebrate this for the rest of the day. Then tomorrow we’re going to get our heads straight,” Peterson said. “We have a big task ahead.”
Email Kevin Devaney Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org
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