BROOKLYN, NY - Basketball is truly a game of runs, and Tuesday's game between Cardinal Hayes and Bishop Loughlin proved that point very well.
It was a back and forth contest that saw both teams steal momentum from each other on numerous occasions, but a big 2nd half from Shavar Newkirk helped propel the Cardinals to the 86-83 victory.
When two of the top teams in NYC meet, you expect what played out on the court on Tuesday, a great game where the stars shine bright. The past two seasons Hayes has had the Lions number, and maybe that played a part in to how the game started.
Loughlin came out flying. Solid ball pressure led to a pair of steals, and wing threes from Khadeen Carrington and Jayvian Delacruz saw the Lions jump out to a 10-0 lead just 1:56 into the game. Cardinal Hayes called a timeout, and their head coach, Joe Lods, gave his group a simple reminder at that point.
"I reminded them the game started. I said guys this isn't scrimmage time, we are actually playing now," Lods said about the slow start.
Newkirk put it even better, describing the frustration of getting down so quickly in such a big game,
"I knew coming into the game we would get their best shot, but we didn't come out and defend our home court early on. We were too lackadaisical and before we knew it was 10-0, and that was disappointing," Newkirk added.
Hayes was able to find there rhythm, and it was guard Jamal Smith who really got them going. The scrappy lead guard was able to make a pair of nice passes to cutting teammates inside, and he also banged home a wing three, and the deficit for the Cardinals was closed to just 20-18 after 1.
The 2nd quarter became problematic for Loughlin as Mike Williams was saddled early on with his 2nd foul. He had to sit, and Hayes took advantage, and went on a nice run to go up by as many as 7 in the 3rd. Sitting Williams for as long as he did is something that Lions coach Ed Gonzalez was left to wonder about after the game as well.
"Maybe I should've played him more at that point, but he is so aggressive and emotional, and the way the refs were calling it, I was afraid he would pick up his 3rd foul quick. As a coach you 2nd guess yourself on stuff like that for sure," Gonzalez said.
While Williams sat, Carrington was feeling it. He showed a nice touch from the outside, but was aggressive in getting to the rim, something he said he made a conscious effort to do knowing that with his other main scoring partner out.
"I had to step it up a lot, it's when I started attacking the rim, I got fouls and got to the line a lot," Carrington said about what he felt he needed to do.
That's exactly what he did, as he had 6 straight for the Lions late in the half to see Loughlin pull even with Hayes, to send the game to the half tied at 40.
What was so strange in the opening half was the play of Newkirk for the Cardinals. He wasn't his normal self, scoring just 5 first half points, and according to the point guard, he got a pep talk at the half from his coach that helped him the rest of the way.
"Coach told me this is my team and if I want to be player of the year, and I want to be considered one of the best in New York, that I need to win this game, so in the 2nd half I came out with a different mentality. Sometimes it takes a little talk to realize what you need to do, and he gave me that little push I needed," Newkirk said of the talk.
Lods concurred when asked about what was said at halftime, saying he just wanted Newkirk to understand that his legacy going forward would be defined by situations like these.
"If he wants to be considered player of the year, he needs this game on his resume. A player of the year don't lose this game in his own building, so you need to step up and get the team where they need to be. That's all I said," Lods added.
The words stuck with Newkirk as he had 7 points in the 3rd, plus he also ran the break well finding Mustafa Jones on a pair of occasions for easy buckets inside.
Delacruz stayed on point for Loughlin with three 3's in the third, and Carrington was doing all he could to keep the Lions in the game, having 26 through three quarters, but Hayes took a 6 point lead into the 4th.
The 4th then looked like it would truly turn into Newkirk's show. He had 10 points through the first 4 minutes if the 4th, and he was truly putting the team on his back and it looked like willing his team to a win when they went up 83-73 with 2:11 left after he finished on a tough in transition, but Loughlin remained a confident group, knowing what they were still capable of, even down 10 late.
"I think everyone on our bench knew we would make a run. Coach always says basketball is a game of runs, and at the end there, we started locking in on defense, and brought it back," Carrington said.
That's exactly what they did. Tight pressure defense in the backcourt by the Lions started it, and then Carrington did all he could do, just as he had all game to date. First it was a runner in the lane, then a long jumper around a screen, then an impressive turnaround baseline jumper, and before you knew it, Loughlin was on a 10-1 run, and with 22 seconds to play, it was just a 84-83 lead for the Cardinals, something that really gave Lods some nervous moments.
"They pressed us and we got all frazzled. I always tell my kids, if you're stuck just call a timeout, yet we get doubled and we lean back and fire a diagonal pass to who knows where, I really thought I was going to pass out," Lods said. "We need to do a heck of a lot better when I have 5 seniors, of maintaining our poise and spreading the floor and getting decent shots."
Hayes had the ball and Lods implored his group to stay calm, Chris Robinson inbounded the ball, and Newkirk got it, he passed it to Baron Goodridge, who immediately got it back to Newkirk, who was then fouled with 9 seconds to go. The senior leader calmly stepped up and nailed the pair of FT's to make it 86-83. Loughlin had no timeouts left, but Lods knew exactly where the ball was going. He said he doesn't believe in fouling in that spot, instead trusting his defense, but he wanted them keying in on one thing.
"I said listen, we have a very small area to defend right now, just switch on everything and don't let Carrington get off a shot, and of course we don't switch and it happened," Lods said about the final seconds.
The Cardinals didn't switch on defense, and Carrington got off an NBA distance three, though open, that fell short, and time expired before another shot could be taken, as Cardinal Hayes hung on for the 86-83 win.
The final shot, which is all Carrington wanted, it something he says, will stick with him for a while.
"It was a great look, I just short armed it a bit. I really didn't realize how open I was, and I shot it too quick, and it fell a bit short," Carrington said.
Gonzalez, while disappointed it didn't go in, was not disappointed in the execution in the final seconds, or the play of his star Carrington.
"You get the ball in the hands of your best player. We knew they would key up on him, and they did play him well. He was able to get off a good shot that just came up a little short. Who better to take the last shot though. He's an amazing player, and in that spot he is one of the best to take it," Gonzalez said of Carrington's shot.
It was a battle of giants in NYC, and Hayes proved just a bit better on Tuesday according to Gonzalez.
"It was a well played game, and they were the better team tonight. I don't care who we play, we can't give up 86 points, because you won't win many games giving up 86 points. That's the bottom line," Gonzalez said afterward.
On the other end, it's now Cardinal Hayes as the hunted, having beaten Christ the King and now Bishop Loughlin this season, and while he is happy with the wins, Lods understands that the more important games are still to come.
"These games in January are good, and winning them is good for team spirit, but the important games are the ones in February and into March, those are the ones we need," Lods said about the team's mindset on the win.
Newkirk ended up with a team high 24 points, 19 of which came in the 2nd half, to pace Cardinal Hayes, while Jones added 19, and Robinson chipped in 18.
Carrington led all scorers for Loughlin with 36, with Delacruz and Williams adding 14 and 13 respectively in the defeat.
After another big win the question now becomes, is the Cardinal Hayes top dog in New York? It's the question everyone wants to know, but Newkirk, regardless of who they have beaten, says he is going to let that question be answered by others.
"We leave that up to ya'll, the reporters, to tell us who is the best, we just want to go out and play our best, and if we keep playing this way hopefully we will be able to win the championship because that's all that matters to us right now."