Updated: Oct 29
In front of a raucous and packed Max Stern Athletic Center crowd, the reigning champion and two-seed Valley Torah Wolfpack and the sixth-seeded YULA Panthers brought California to New York as the two Los Angeles rivals dueled on Sunday afternoon for a berth in Monday’s Tier 1 championship game.
The first half saw both teams fueled by the adrenaline, pushing the pace of play and seeking a quick start on the scoreboard. That came from Gabriel Rib’Bo, whose seven first-half points saw Valley Torah take an early 20-8 lead before they survived a defensive standstill in the second to take a 25-17 advantage into intermission. As a unit, 18 of the Wolfpack’s first-half points came from beyond the arc, while the Panthers generated their offense from inside the paint.
Yet, this game came down to the fact that the Wolfpack have superstar Johny Dan and the Panthers don’t. Clinging to a 36-33 late fourth-quarter lead after YULA, who had yet to be in front, capped an 8-0 run and scored the first five points of the stanza, last year's finals MVP canned back-back threes as part of his game-high 18 points to go along with his 13 rebounds. Noam Mayouhas’s free throws secured Valley’s 47-37 victory, giving them a chance to defend their title on Monday against the fifth-seeded SAR Sting, who stunned the top-seeded Shalhevet Firehawks 57-55 in a classic.
“We played an ugly game. We needed to grind it out defensively, and we did that. It’ll be tough again tomorrow, but we’ll win it if we’re all in it together,” Dan said postgame.