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With stars on bench, Lehman advances

Bayside held a 56-55 lead with 2:07 to go in the PSAL Class AA outbracket game. Center Armand (Big Baby) Thomas had fouled out. Leading scorer Aaron Barnes was on the bench in street clothes after tearing his meniscus.

If the Lehman boys’ basketball team’s season was going to continue, it wasn’t going to have anything to do with the two stars.

The supporting cast made sure they have at least 32 minutes left to play. Jerrel Meriwether, Edwin Pasqual and Sharief Saunders each knocked down two free throws in a 6-0 run and Pasqual added three more in the final seconds to spearhead the No. 15 Lions’ 64-63 victory over the 18th-seeded Commodores in the Bronx Tuesday evening.

“We are a very good free throws shooting team and tonight we came through,” coach Chuck Hicks said.

Added Meriwether, who scored 10 points: “It’s the playoffs – we had to make them.”

Hicks credited his team’s defense in the final stanza. They forced guard-heavy Bayside onto the perimeter, cutting off penetration lanes. After the 6-0 run, Lehman kept picking up full court, forcing the Commodores to waste precious seconds. Meriwether even came up with a steal.

Bayside, meanwhile, seemed to be in control after Thomas (14 points) fouled out early in the fourth quarter. Guards LeBrent Walker and Carlos (Georgie) Solano were having their way, getting to the basket and making contested jumpshots. Walker, a talented freshman, scored five straight points in one stretch. But after the lead switched hands a few times in the final quarter, the smallish Commodores couldn’t kept the Lions off the glass, even with Thomas on the bench.

Hicks said his players have adjusted to Barnes’ absence, although it has taken time. Since he went down in a 92-91 loss to Thurgood Marshall Academy Jan. 16, Lehman lost three of five, including an opening-round defeat in the Bronx borough playoffs to Gompers.

Since he went down, Saunders (12 points) was moved into the starting lineup. Meriwether and Pasqual have produced, taking on more responsibility. Against Bayside, Meriwether was the first option on the perimeter in the first half, scoring eight point.

All of the Lions (17-8) hope to enjoy the same sensation next Tuesday, when they meet second-seeded John F. Kennedy. Lehman lost both meetings to its Bronx AA rivals, but the first time the two clubs played it was close, and that was without Thomas, the effective widebody.

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