Volume 17, Number 42 | March 11 - 17, 2005


Cougars tested, but notch two more wins

I.S. 89 Cougar Grits Gittens scored 25 points and led the team to a comeback win against Greenwich Village Middle School. (Downtown Express photos by Dave Sanders)

By Zachary Roy

Midway through the second quarter of their game last Thursday, the I.S. 89 Cougars found themselves in unfamiliar territory — they were losing. But guard Grits Gittens 25-point performance lifted them past Greenwich Village Middle School (G.V.M.S.) 65-45, which, on the heels of their 62-38 win at Baruch two days earlier, extended the Cougars’ record to 12-1.

Despite his team’s impressive record, I.S. 89 coach Blake Hepburn headed into the game against G.V.M.S. expecting a tight contest. Players on the two teams knew one another well, having faced each other many times in a local recreational league.

The Cougars, playing at home for the seventh time this season, charged out to a 13-2 lead. Guard Tyler Sinclair had nine first-quarter steals and the game had all the makings of yet another blowout. The lead could have been even larger, but they missed six first quarter layups and G.V.M.S. hit the last three shots of the quarter to cut the lead to five points.

Realizing the man-to-man match-ups did not favor his slower team, G.V.M.S. coach Patrick Sillup, buffered the Cougar attack by switching to a zone defense. Sillup’s squad also started to click offensively, with lanky shooting guard Brian Ramos driving and dishing the ball to teammates for open shots. A three-pointer by Karim Obaid put G.V.M.S. on top for the first time, 22-20.

But their advantage was short-lived once I.S. 89 implemented its tenacious full-court press, converting steals into easy baskets. The Cougars heeded Hepburn’s pleas to improve their shot selection. Gittens sank a host of jumpers over the zone, forcing G.V.M.S. to extend its defense, which allowed Robbie Duran’s inside scoring attack to flourish. A 13-0 run gave the hosts a comfortable lead that they held the rest of the way.

Playing from behind, surprisingly, was a welcome change for Hepburn. “I was actually kind of happy about it, because it’s a point of challenge and we are never really in a point of challenge and that’s, for these guys, more than winning, we want them to understand adversity and how to overcome adversity because that’s what life is about. So this is a learning process for them,” he said.

The game deteriorated after halftime. In an already physical game, tensions mounted as three I.S. 89 players were given technical fouls for talking back to the referees. A malfunctioning scoreboard forced the game’s final, sluggish minutes to be played with the referees keeping track of the time and score.

Gittens, whose 25 points were a team-best for the season, used his skills to rise above the second-half sloppiness. “I basically tried to be aggressive, but to make sure I took good shots and didn’t force my shot,” he said. “I was able to get myself open. Sometimes I score 10 points and sometimes I score 20 points, but it really just depends on what the team needs.”

The team’s next game is Tuesday at the Academy of Sciences on 51st St., then they have a rematch against G.V.M.S. at home on Thursday. Meanwhile, the I.S. 89 girls’ team will play its first game in three weeks at I.S. 140 on Thursday.

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