Coach: T-Birds ‘Playing At Another Level’

By Anthony Hidalgo

 Hills East junior guard Savion Lewis drives through Longwood defenders for a layup.

Hills East junior guard Savion Lewis drives through Longwood defenders for a layup.

The three seed in this year’s Suffolk Class AA boys basketball tournament, Hills East, has defeated its first and second round opponents to advance to the semifinals.

First the Thunderbirds defeated no. 14 Longwood, 58-30, on Saturday. Then, on Tuesday, they beat sixth-seeded Ward Melville, 75-59.

Hills East made quick work of Longwood as it dominated on both ends of the court.

Hills East’s Kenny Mathurin and Kendall Neo-Clark played important roles, helping to shut down Longwood’s offense and give the Thunderbirds quick sparks of offense. The two juniors combined for nine points, 15 rebounds, seven steals and eight blocks – four of which came in the third quarter.

The Thunderbirds relied on the duo of Savion Lewis and Julien Crittendon for a majority of their scoring. The two juniors took over the game in the second quarter, scoring 16 of Hills East’s 18 points. Finishing with 20 and 22 points respectively, the duo proved why it is a force that is tough for any team to stop, said head coach Peter Basel.

“Their offensive skillset is unbelievable. Savion can drive past anyone and kick it out to Julien, who can hit the outside shot. They’re a tough matchup for anybody.”

With Longwood taken care of, the Thunderbirds then focused their attention to Ward Melville, which defeated no. 11 East Islip in the first round.

The story of the game between Hills East and Ward Melville was Lewis. He exploded to lead all scorers with 33 points, and dished out nine assists. Neo-Clark was also key; he added a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Meanwhile, Shane Dean contributed 12 points off the bench in the win.

Basel commended his team for its performance after the game.

“We’re playing at another level right now,” he said. “The guys are playing team basketball and that’s what you want to be doing at this point in the season.”

Next up for Hills East is a semifinal matchup with second-seeded Brentwood, which defeated Hills West in overtime on Tuesday to advance. The two teams last met on Feb. 13, 2016, when Brentwood eliminated Hills East in the Suffolk Class AA quarterfinals.

The Thunderbirds will seek to avenge the loss when they meet the Indians at Stony Brook University on Saturday, 5 p.m. There will be a $6 admission fee for the game.

The winner is slated to face the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal game, top-seeded Bay Shore and fourth-seeded Smithtown West, in the Suffolk Class AA championship game, which is scheduled for Thursday, March 2, 8 p.m. at Stony Brook University.