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Poor shooting key in Spartans’ defeat

John Adams' Markell French (front l.) grabs for the ball. Photo by Ken Maldonado
TimesLedger Newspapers

ALBANY — John Adams finally felt the nerves and emotions that come with playing in a big game — unfortunately, it came at an inopportune time.

The Spartans fell behind early for the first time all post-season, stayed within striking distance but never found an offensive rhythm. John Adams’ magical season ended with a hard-fought 50-34 loss to Albany Academy at the school’s first Class A state Federation basketball title game at the Times Union Center Saturday.

“Everyone was basically nervous,” junior guard Paul Johnson said. “I don’t know why. I tried to talk to everybody. Everybody was all upset, all emotional.”

Adams, which torched the nets in the semifinal, shot just 21.4 percent for the game against the Cadets, which advanced to the final by beating Nazareth at the buzzer.

Johnson, who scored a game-high 20 points, thought his team did not play with the same confidence and swagger it had throughout the playoffs where it handled most of its competition.

“We couldn’t get anything, my shots weren’t falling,” he said. “We were rushing everything.”

He was the only player in double figures for the Spartans (25-6). Senior guard Markell French never found his stroke, shooting three of 18 and scoring just six points. Albany Academy center Marcus Jackson, who stands 6-foot-8, posed a major matchup problem on both ends of the floor. He rebounded, challenged shots and tallied 13 points and 13 boards.

“You do the best you can,” Adams Coach James Pitman said of combating Jackson. “You can’t have kids get taller overnight.”

Still, Adams hung around for much of the game with both teams struggling to score. The Spartans trailed just 23-18 at the half and 29-23 with 1:41 left in the third. Albany Academy (16-4) then went on a 9-2 run to finally get the separation it was looking for.

“It was a great year and a bad game,” Pitman said.

The defeat ends a special year for Adams. The Spartans rode to the school’s first PSAL Class A title with a late addition of Johnson to the team and pulled an upset of McKinley in the semifinals. Pittman said it was the toughest group to say goodbye to in his more than 30 years coaching.

The players were disappointed not to finish the season with another title, but know they did something special.

“We came a long way,” Johnson said. “Guys wanted to get the state, but the cities were enough.”

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