BRONX, NY - The rivalry between the St. Raymond Ravens and Cardinal Hayes is both long and storied. In Friday's game, defense would ultimately win the game as big man Nathan Ekwu scored a triple-double to help pull the Cardinals past St. Ray's, 79-71.
"Nathan was our main guy. He was the key," said sharpshooter Chris Robinson (14 points). "He's why we won."
The plan was simple according to Robinson. "Coach [Joe Lods] said lead them towards the baseline and [Ekwu] swatted them like flies.
The 6'9" junior "swatted" 10 shots to go along with 20 points and 12 rebounds and he was also responsible for going at St. Ray's counterpart Luis Santos (2 pointer), fouling him of the game late in the second half.
Ravens struck first as Kayvon Williams (18 points) and Santos score inside. St. Rays led 8-2 with 5:30. Turnovers allowed the Ravens to break open with transition points. Hayes was continuously on their heels as St. Rays lead grew to 14-4 as Cahiem Brown (11 points) drained a midrange shot with 3:27.
The tension was palpable as Hayes sought ways to stop the Ravens forward progress. Mustafa Jones (14 points) and Robinson finally found seams to score for the Cardinals but the Williams countered late and the Ravens still led 22-13 at the top of the second quarter.
Good ball movement at the top of the quarter freed up Robinson for an and-1 but again the Ravens countered.
With their bigs Ekwu and AK Ojo juggling foul woes, Coach Joe Lods went to 6'7" Kashief Davis. The junior displayed his potential with a turnaround 15 foot jumper.
Still down 11, Hayes got momentum on the defensive end as Ekwu double-blocked two Ravens players and then drew a foul on the offensive end.
Shots were not dropping for Hayes who trailed 29-20 with 3:29 but Defensively the Cards were tenacious.
The Raven showed no fear as they inched up 34-24 with 2:18 and by 11 with 1:08. A late charge by Hayes with baskets by Ojo and sophomore Clive Allen (6 points) sent both teams into the locker room with Rays holding on to a 37-30 advantage.
The Ravens would have to have a solid second half to hold off a more experience Hayes squad known for finishing strong..
As predicted a step up in defensive intensity and back-to-backs by Robinson and Ekwu and with 5:55 left in the quarter, Hayes tied the game at 37. In short order, Shavar Newkirk (12 points)gave Hayes their first lead.
Ekwu continued to terrorize the boards and the Cardinals lead was 46-39 at the 4 minute mark. The Ravens got the lead down to 3 as fearless 5'10" PG Tory Ferguson (19 points) nailed a three. Jemal Williams (7 points), who did a balanced job scoring and setting the table for Robinson, finished strong. A dunk by Jones punctuated a strong quarter for Hayes who now led 61-53 at the end of three quarters.
Williams powered up for an and-1 followed by a transition dunk by Brown and a free throw by Santos and suddenly the Ravens only trailed 61-59 with 7 minutes.
Allen and Newkirk created some distance with strong drives, pushing their lead back up to 65-59 with 5:18.
Ferguson's assertive was peeking as he netted a trey, St. Ray's deficit down to 3 but the junior guard landed awkwardly and had to be helped off the court.
Jones got the ball rolling for Hayes scoring in the paint. A gimpy Ferguson reemerged onto the court with 4 minutes but not the same. Brown tried cut into Hayes lead from the foul line.
With Luis fouled out, Ekwu has the upper atmosphere to himself and delivered three dunks in succession extend Hayes lead to 73-66 with 1:50
A minute remained and Hayes was ahead by 9 as Jones got an easy layup inside as the hour glass slowly emptied to a halt.
Hayes would remain undefeated which in of itself is its own unique type of pressure.
"We don't try to think about but it is something we are trying to accomplish," Robinson said."We know we can be beat every night."
Robinson said that the keep to their success is , "We're a comeback team. We're gonna comeback and fight and we did it for the last 21 games and it works."