NEW YORK, NY - NYCHoops.net Long Island's #1 ranked L.I. Lutheran had already won their first game at the Big Apple Basketball Invitational on Saturday when they took down St. Raymond.
On Monday though, they faced one of New Jersey's best in Linden HS, and while LuHi is considered very good, this was going to be a big test. Defense stood out for the Crusaders, and though some counted them out before the game, they came out strong, never trailed, and took the impressive 64-58 victory at Baruch College.
"Different teams present different challenges, and Linden is an extremely well coached team and they don't make it easy for you to execute, so I felt it was important for us to come out and set a tone," LuHi coach John Buck said about what he wanted from his team to start on Monday.
The tone they wanted to set was strong defense. It was something that Buck preached in practice yesterday in preparation for Linden, and that, combined with the Crusaders feeling slightly disrespected, was something that wing Marvin Prochet said gave the motivation.
"We were at practice and we were upset because people were saying we couldn't beat them, and everyone doubted us, so coach stressed defense defense defense and said we could get the win," Prochet said.
Buck preached defense, and early on, defense is what he got. The Crusaders didn't allow the Linden guards to penetrate into the lanes, and the even bigger thing they did, was not allow Linden 6'10' big man Quadri Moore to get going. It was 6'9" Robyn Missa who was given the assignment on him for LuHi, and his performance in holding Moore to just 4 points in the first half was not something that surprised Buck.
"He did a great job against Moore, but he is a tremendous post defender, and honestly one of the best I've ever coached, and he rose to the challenge defensively for sure," Buck said about Missa's play on the inside.
LuHi built up a lead as big as 13 in the opening half, but foul trouble for Missa and Rojaye Campbell, both hindered them late in the 2nd quarter, and hot shooting by Juwan Jones of Linden helped them stat close, as LuHi led just 28-22 at the half.
The third was a strong quarter for LuHi, who were aggressive defensively, and Devonte Green knocked down 3 threes to give the Crusaders a lead as big as 17 late in the 3rd, but Buck knew his team and stated that there is one thing he wishes his team understood.
"There is no rule against having a 15 point lead and making it 20, so we need to get there and that's my job as the coach," Buck said.
He said that because in the 4th, Linden started chipping away. Moore was able to be more aggressive around the rim after Campbell fouled out, and Missa was playing with 4 fouls, and Jones and Otis Livingston were ball pressuring, which led to LuHi turnovers, and easy baskets going the other way. The Linden deficit was just 57-53 with 2:37 to go, and Buck was once again concerned with closing out the game.
"We still have a ways to go to learn how to finish games. Guarding and defending late in the games, I think kids naturally get tentative which we need to get out of," Buck explained.
While they may have gotten tentative, they didn't relinquish control. Prochet, who was so strong from start to finish, made clutch FT's, along with showing good dribble drive skills, and Missa took 2 big charges late to really end all Linden hopes, as LuHi got the statement making victory, taking down the Tigers, 64-58.
Prochet had a game high 17 points and 12 rebounds for Long Island Lutheran in the win, with Green adding 16 points, and Elijah Bailey chipping in 10 off the bench.
Moore and Jones each had 16 for Linden in the loss, and Tigers Coach Phil Colicchio said that while LuHi didn't do anything he didn't expect at Moore, they were clearly effective in what they did.
"Obviously there game plan was to come at him from different angles, sometimes they came with a guard, other times they came with a big, but we expected that because it happens every night," Colicchio said. "You just have to give Long Island Lutheran a lot of credit, they played hard and John (Buck) had his kids really prepared."
It's as a very impressive win for LuHi, to beat a Linden team that was coming off of wins over NJ powers Roselle Catholic and The Patrick School. Buck knew the importance of the game, and came out on the sidelines more animated than usual, hoping that it would resonate with his team.
"Your team takes on your personality so I was a little extra animated at the beginning to make sure they knew they needed to bring it, and they did," Buck said.
The coach added that his group of kids are extremely coachable and receptive to what he asks of them, and that he has lots of faith in them to do what he asks.
Prochet agrees, and he feels that this win was a statement to show how good they are, and in his eyes, just who they can beat the rest of the way.
"This win meant a lot and shows how good we are. We believe we can beat anyone. Anyone we play we really know now that we can beat."