BRONX, NY - When undefeated Cardinal Hayes faced off against undefeated Don Bosco on Saturday afternoon, someone's "0" had to go. Knocking off one of the top teams on New Jersey would be no small feat but a big accomplishment as Hayes finally melted the Ironmen, 58-54.
"We had three goals," said Don Bosco coach Kevin Diverio who relied on man-to-man defense all game long. "Transition [defense], Make them take jumps shot and rebound the ball." For 90% percent of the game, Coach Diverio believed the strategy was successful. Don Bosco won the battles but when Hayes adapted their strategy, the Cardinals won the war.
It would be a grind 'em out low scoring game from the onset. A game where most one dimensional up-tempo teams would've eventually wilted. Don Bosco inched ahead early as 6'5" junior forward/guard Lonnie Rivera (15 points) and 6'3" Jack Ely (nine points) scored. Leading 5-2, the Ironmen increased their lead to 16-7 after the first quarter.
Hayes stepped it up to begin the second stanza. Central Connecticut bound Mustafa Jones (15 points) and Nathan Ekwu (11 points) attacked Don Bosco inside and began to make some head way. Sharpshooter Chris Robinson (16 points), who was still adjusting to a facemask he had to wear due to an injury in a game vs. Mt. Saint Michael, knocked down some shots after struggling at first.
"The whole team and the whole staff told me to keep [shooting]. Your time's gonna come," said Robinson. "I didn't give up."
The senior would tie the game at 18 with 4:42 and give the Cardinals their first lead as he set up Jones with a nice feed but Paul Jorgensen (21 points) would knock down twelve first half points including two clutch treys. The George Washington commit ignited an Ironman run that left them ahead, 32-27 at the half.
"The coach [Joe Lods] left the room at half time and I had a talk with my teammates," said Shavar Newkirk (12 points). The St. Joe's bound point guard and team captain told the Cardinals that Jorgensen was killing them offensively and took personal responsibility for allowing teammates to take up the slack for his defensive lapses. "As a captain, I took it upon myself to guard [Jorgensen] and I contained him."
Hayes, for the most part, was constantly playing catch-up. Every time they would close the gap, the Ironmen would come up big and create separation in the score.
With 3:36 left in the third, Robinson tied the game at 36 as Hayes sped up their offense but once again Jorgensen would come up big, putting Don Bosco back in front 41-40 as the final quarter began.
Having played along side Jorgensen on the New Heights AAU team, Newkirk knew Jorgensen's tendencies. "He likes to go left and pull up on the elbow area so I kinda knew that once I give him a little a bump before he hits his sweet spot, I knew he was gonna shoot and I can just close out."
The strategy worked as Newkirk held Jorgensen was held to just two points in the fourth quarter.
The game inched forward, tied at 45 and again at 47 and yet again at 49 but with 1:09, Robinson nailed a turning point trifecta that gave Hayes a 56-51 lead. The Cardinals also stepped up defensively as Ekwu got a key block with under a minute left to play.
Ely drained a three-pointer with 43 second left in regulation, cutting Hayes lead to a deuce. The Ironmen went into lock-down defense mode and forced Coach Lods to burn Hayes last time out.
The ball was inbounded to Newkirk who was checked by Jorgensen, mano y mano. The seconds ticked as the senior surveyed the landscape and at the 6.6 second mark he found an opening and hit a tough scoop shot that put Hayes up by four, enough for the win.
"[Cardinal Hayes] is the best team we've faced without question," said Coach Diverio."They've got guards. They've got bigs. They get out in transition. They're difficult to defend."
The NYCHoops.net #1 ranked Cardinals improve to 19-0 while Don Bosco's record falls to 16-1.