NEW YORK MILLS — The Utica Academy of Science Atoms haven’t been up to full strength in their last few games.
UAS dropped its first game of the season Monday at Cooperstown, then had two close victories over Mount Markham (Wednesday) and Madrid-Waddington (Friday). Some was partly due to an illness that ran through the team, but some of it was not playing up to their immense potential.
That wasn’t the case Saturday night as the Atoms completely overwhelmed a solid New York Mills squad from the opening tip on their way to a 97-30 victory in the championship game of the New York Mills Christmas Tournament at Beekman Gym.
Dekwan Grant hit five of his six 3-pointers in the first quarter and finished with a game-high 26 points to lead the Atoms (7-1).
Senior point guard LaMarqus Merchant controlled the entire game with lockdown defense, great vision in the open court and his overall ability to get his entire team involved.
“It feels pretty good, I’ve never done that before in a quarter, so it felt great,” Grant said. “(Merchant) is a really good point guard. I’m happy to have him on this team and sad it’s his last year. He’s like a brother to me and I love having him as my point guard.”
The dynamic backcourt combined for 46 points and made it evident early that the Marauders had no answer for the Atoms’ pressure as three consecutive turnovers led to a 6-0 UAS lead. If the pressure wasn’t daunting enough for the Marauders, Grant got sizzling hot from deep to blow the game wide open. The sophomore hit five 3-pointers (all from the baseline) in the final five minutes of the quarter to give the Atoms a 28-3 lead after the first eight minutes. Swingman Ryan Maddox scored six of his 14 points in the first quarter to complement Grant’s shooting and Merchant’s playmaking.
“We were looking to redeem ourselves,” Merchant said. “We know we shouldn’t have taken that loss and every game forward we’re looking to come out strong, push and get things done.”
There was little, if any, let-up in the second quarter as the Atoms scored the first eight points to close out a 25-0 run to grab a 36-3 advantage. The Atoms extended its lead to a whopping 41 points (50-9) after back-to-back steals and lay-ins by Merchant and went into the locker room holding a 52-15 edge. When he wasn’t making steals and finishing hoops, Merchant was consistently finding the open man for easy buckets. Shamar Mills and Taysir Hakim-Monteiro each had nine points, while Justin Brown had eight and Elvin Aragones finished with seven.
“I’m trying to get my teammates involved,” Merchant said. “It’s not about me, it’s about all of us and becoming the best team we can. I was trying to feed everyone the ball and get everyone involved. I go through all our plays and see who’s hitting and get them the ball.”
New York Mills (3-2), which reached the title game with a 68-66 victory over LaFargeville in Friday’s second semifinal, showed more life in the third quarter and were outscored just 16-13, before the Atoms got firing on all cylinders to close out the victory with a 29-2 advantage in the fourth.
Freshman Logan Copperwheat led the Marauders with nine points, while Dante DiOrio and Jeff Pacini had seven and six, respectively. After such a tough showing, it will be back to the basics for head coach Mike Meyers and his Marauders.
Meyers knows he was up against a very talented opponent, but wasn’t pleased with his team’s effort and competitive pride throughout the lopsided defeat.
“There was zero effort on our part,” New York Mills head coach Mike Meyers said. “We don’t work hard enough in practice and this is a product of that lackluster effort. We hopefully will get better, try to improve and give a better effort beginning in practice.”
While Meyers and the Marauders try to find answers before Monday’s home game against Morrisville-Eaton, UAS head coach Anthony Lee knows his team will be tough to beat with a leader like Merchant and scorers like Maddox and Grant.
Lee has coached many of these kids since youth ball and knows how to accentuate their strengths. Having Merchant running the show and Grant hitting his shots gives Lee one of the best backcourts in Section 3.
“I’m fortunate I’ve had them together for a while,” Lee said. “One’s my stepson (Grant) and (Merchant) has been training with me since he was six-years old. So there’s good chemistry and we’re fortunate to have them. (Merchant) finds them and (Grant) can shoot it.”
Looking ahead, Lee and the Atoms are already eyeing their main competition in Class C. They’ll remain focused on the next game when they host Westmoreland Monday. However, they also can’t wait to get a shot at redemption on Jan. 23 when they host Cooperstown.
“We know it’s us and Cooperstown, so we are going to find out,” Lee said of their main competition in Center State Conference Division 3 and Class C. “I think we have a good team and I believe we can compete for a sectional title and get to regionals or more.”
Merchant has his sights set on even bigger goals.
“I think we can win states,” Merchant said. “That’s how much confidence I have.”
New York Mills Christmas Tournament
Utica Academy of Science 28 24 16 29–97
New York Mills 3 12 13 2–30
UAS (7-1): Dekwan Grant 8-4 26; LaMarqus Merchant 10-0 20; Ryan Maddox 7-0 14; Shamar Mills 4-1 9; Taysir Hakim-Monteiro 3-2 9; Justin Brown 4-0 8; Elvin Aragones 3-0 7; Drayton Belton 2-0 4. Totals: 41-7-97. 3-Pointers: 8 (Grant 6, Hakim-Monteiro, Aragones).
New York Mills (3-2): Logan Copperwheat 3-2 9; Dante DiOrio 3-1 7; Jeff Pacini 2-0 6; Alex Matrassi 1-0 2; Gevonte Griffin 0-2 2; Ryan Mikalajunas 1-0 2; Tyler Kantor 1-0 2. Totals: 11-5-30. 3-Pointers 2 (Pacini 2, Copperwheat).
Utica AS 97, NY Mills 30
Madrid-Waddington 72, LaFargeville 59
Utica AS 65, Madrid-Waddington 58
NY Mills 68, LaFargeville 66