The game was over—the announcer even said it: “And Mount Vernon’s gonna’ hold on and win!” But you had to credit New Rochelle’s fight. Down 59-49 in yesterday’s Section I AA Championship game with under four minutes to play, they could have phoned it in and called it a season. Instead they scratched and clawed, almost all the way back, closing the gap to 60-58 with 2.9 seconds to play.
Moral victories may not count for much in sports, especially in championship games. But given the opponent, it was hard for New Rochelle to hang their heads low.
After all, these were the nationally ranked Mount Vernon Knights, coached by the great Bob Cimmino, alma mater of Ben Gordon, Kevin Jones, Jabari Hines, among many other great talents. The program is a farm system for future Division 1 players, and Section I in Westchester County is their playground.
New Rochelle has beaten Mount Vernon before—even in a Sectional title game at the County Center. They’d done this in 2005 with Ray Rice (yes, that Ray Rice) as one of its most valuable pieces in what was another epic battle. So this wasn’t so much a David vs. Goliath affair as it was a rivalry game.
But don’t get me wrong, the more talented, two-time defending state champion Mount Vernon Knights were supposed to win. They were supposed to win before the game started, they were supposed to win when up by 10 with 3:58 to play, and they were supposed to win as New Rochelle was set to inbound the ball from their own baseline with 2.9 seconds to play.
And then Khalil Edney did the most improbable thing I have ever seen, in any sporting event, at any level.
As the in-bounder, Edney threw a baseball-style pass for one of his teammates near midcourt. The pass was deflected by one Mount Vernon player, and fell into the hands of another (Davonte Banner). Banner, like everyone else in the stadium, thought Mount Vernon had just captured another Sectional championship. So he threw the ball up in the air towards the basket of New Rochelle to run off the remaining two seconds, as Mount Vernon’s bench began to jump up and down in celebration.
Now I don’t know personally know Khalil Edney. I graduated from New Rochelle High School in 2007, before his time. What I do know is he was the quarterback on our football team who this past fall delivered New Rochelle our first state title since the Ray Rice era. What I’ve since found out is that his mother, who he was very close with, died of cancer not long ago.
When in a situation like the one New Rochelle was in, one where the chances of victory are so miniscule that that they’re impossible to statistically quantify, it’s almost human nature to be resigned to defeat. Looking at the replay, once Banner has control of the ball, three of New Rochelle’s five players begin walking. And I’m not knocking them for this—in this situation it has a lot more to do with accepting reality than it does a lack of effort.
But Khalil Edney never misses a beat. Running full speed, he intercepts Banner’s lob behind half-court, which didn’t have enough arc under it to run out the two-plus seconds remaining on the clock. In one fluid motion he then lets the ball fly in the other direction.
The most remarkable part of it all wasn’t the plays physical aspect, although it obviously required spectacular athleticism. It wasn’t even Edney’s required anticipation, though the way he angled his run made it seem like he read Banner’s mind.
No. The most amazing part was that as soon as the ball left Edney’s hands, he just skipped. First to the right, then backwards, as if he knew he needed a head start from the mob he was about to encounter. The quarterback of the football team, who lost his mother to cancer, knew it.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. But if everything happened the way it was supposed to, why would we play the games?