Chiazam Nwankwo is known by coaches, teammates and Elmont fans as Chaz, as in jazz.
His game was harmonious Saturday, a melodious combination of smooth shooting (a trio of long-range three-pointers) blended with the steady drumbeat of strong drives that produced layups and drew fouls.
Nwankwo, a 6-3 senior swing man, scored 29 points, including 10 free throws, as Elmont defeated Central Islip, 78-72, in a matchup of boys basketball teams that entered the Nassau-Suffolk Challenge at Uniondale High School with 9-1 records.
“I don’t like to say I play one position. Whatever the team needs, I’ll do,” Nwankwo said. “Coach wants me to create mismatches because I can handle and I can shoot.”
Nwankwo had 10 points in the third quarter in which the Spartans turned a halftime tie at 32 into a 58-48 advantage heading into the final period. During one stretch, Nwankwo scored on a putback inside, stepped outside for a three and twice got to the foul line after grabbing offensive rebounds down low.
In the fourth, Nwankwo scored seven straight during one stretch, including a virtuoso baseline drive, as Elmont maintained a double-digit lead until the final two minutes when the Musketeers twice cut the lead to five. Nwankwo’s two free throws after a strong move to the rim made it 71-64 with 1:26 left. A nifty scoop by Travis Robinson-Morgan (23 points) clinched it.
“The key for us is to win the first three minutes of each half,” Nwankwo said. “We attacked on defense. To coach, that’s a religion.”
Elmont coach George Holub said, “The first three minutes sets a tone for the rest of the half.”
The Spartans needed that intensity to counter the speed of Central Islip’s guards. Brandon Hodge led the Musketeers with 23 points, including four threes, and his backcourt partner David McKenzie added 12 points. “Their two guards were quick and beat us off the bounce quite a few times, Holub said.
But Hodge is 5-11 and McKenzie is 6-0, and neither could contain Nwankwo. “Chaz is inside and he’s outside. He’s hard to guard,” Holub said. “He’ll bully you or he’ll hit the three.”
The Spartans also dominated the glass, thanks to 15 rebounds from Pauly Paulicap, a 6-7 terror who, according to Holub, started playing basketball only two years ago. “We kept missing and Pauly kept getting rebounds. He was a presence inside the whole game,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nwankwo was omnipresent.
The Elmont Spartans will face the Mepham Pirates Tuesday, January 20th at 4:30 p.m. (Elmont Memorial High School).