Michael Reid turned in a singular performance Friday afternoon that very nearly was enough to carry his Shabazz team to victory.
University had no one come terribly close to matching Reid's scoring exploits, though did always seem to have five guys on the floor who each believed that any one of his four teammates was fully capable.
Reid pumped in 29 points, but fourth-seeded University countered with a balanced effort at both ends of the floor to post a 54-45 win over third-seeded Shabazz for the Newark Public Schools Tournament championship at Essex County College in Newark.
"I've been on them from Day 1 about playing that way," University head coach Elijah Allen said. "They didn’t always believe it at first, but you see the unselfishness grow a little more each game. Our best It teams always had balance, and we have to have it this year because of our lack of size."
Senior guard Elijah Brown scored 13 points and added six rebounds and six assists and senior forward Chemeka Akawuaku collected 10 points and five rebounds off the bench to guide University (4-3) to its fourth consecutive victory and third NPST title. The Phoenix last won in 2006 with similar balance from the likes of Tauron Mantion, Nyrique Healy, Farid Harris and Devon Gibson.
"We're all pretty much capable of doing everything," senior guard Morgan Dixon said. He tossed in nine points and took down eight rebounds. " One day one guy might have a good game, another day someone else. We're a family. Everybody's stepping up, everybody's happy."
The 6-2 Reid did his absolute best to spoil the mood with his smooth pull-up jumpers, quick, confident dribble penetration and also his smart defense. The senior erupted for 29 points, nine rebounds, four assists and five steals for the 4-2 Bulldogs.
Reid was brilliant from the start, sinking all 12 of the Bulldogs' first-quarter points, and also timely down the stretch. He popped in seven points in a 12-7 run that began the fourth quarter, the final two on a mid-range jumper that tied the score at 45-45 with 3:28 to go. But junior Akrum Wadley (eight points, six rebounds, five assists) converted a skip pass in the lane by Brown with 3:06 left to trigger a game-ending, 9-0 spurt for University.
Keeping with the popular theme, three players scored in the run, led by Wadley with five.
"We trust our teammates, so we're always looking for each other," Brown said. " We're not a big team, so we've all got to rebound . We all have to rebound, defend, hit the boards."
"When you play like a team, you can win. We play like a team," sophomore forward Jerrell Murray said after contributing nine points and five rebounds in his second varsity start.
He stepped in for guard Keith Foster, who suffered a broken jaw during University's quarterfinal-round victory over West Side on Tuesday.
"Coach talked about t before the season and he still does," Murray said. "We have no superstars here. One day someone could have 20. Another day someone else could have 20. We all contribute and do our part."
That pattern was set in the first quarter when each Phoenix starter scored at least two points (Brown led with six) to combat the 12-point assault by Reid and end the period in front, 14-12. Wadley dished out three of his five assists in the quarter and Brown added two of his five assists.
"We made smart decisions early in the game. But they weren't all smart decisions," Brown said. "We’re gonna make mistakes, but we also made up for our mistakes by finishing our free throws, playing hard defense, trapping. That's what kept us in the game."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS