NEW YORK, NY - After getting blown out in their two previous meetings against Cardozo, H.S. of Construction knew they needed something different to turn around their fortunes on Sunday during the playoffs at City College.
Strong defense, teamwork, and doing a good job on the glass were things Red Hawks coach Cory Semper knew would be important, but it was also some candy that may have pushed his squad over the top for a 65-62 come from behind upset win over the Judges for the Queens Borough Championship.
It started off badly for Construction who looked like they were on pace to get blown out for the 3rd straight time to Cardozo this season. They struggled from the floor, and with Judges star sophomore Rashond Salnave off to a hot start, it looked bleak. Cardozo took a 30-14 lead with 5:30 left in the half, and it could've just blown up for the Red Hawks, but to their credit, they didn't panic at the difficult start.
"We broke down a bit in the first half, but we kept talking and saying we could win this. We could win this if we stay together, and never give up," senior guard Marlon Alcindor said.
The half wasn't a total loss for Construction either though, as they sliced a once 16 point deficit down to 10, 36-26 at the half, and Semper stressed that it was on the glass where they were really in trouble.
"We said it's all about heart. We had 2 defensive rebounds in the 1st half. If we weren't going to rebound the ball we might as well give up," Semper stressed.
He added that he knew Salnave was going to get his, but that his assistant Tim Brisco, brought up a great point as to how to handle him going forward.
"When we got to halftime, Brisco said Ray is gonna get his, so let him get his, let's see if anyone else can beat us."
It was also interesting because up 10 at the half would've made most coaches happy, but for Head Coach Ron Naclerio of Cardozo, he worried if this was going to be a case of déjà vu having seen this script before.
"I was mad at the half up 10 because I didn't want this to be like at the Garden against Boys and Girls when we were up 10 at the half, when we should've been up 20, and we went on to lose," Naclerio said.
Construction though had a secret weapon heading into the 3rd. All season long Semper's team had struggled in 3rd quarters, and it had gotten to a point where the coach was fed up, but a helpful tip from his older brother, and assistant coach Sean Semper may have changed their fortunes.
"Our energy has been terrible in the 3rd all year long. We always come out flat, so my brother told me about eating Skittles, so we started eating Skittles at the half and during the 3rd quarter of games in the Francis Lewis borough game," Semper explained. "We have a big bag next to the bench and they can have them whenever. The Seattle Seahawks did it and they won the Super Bowl so we can do it too."
Credit the skittles, or just credit the better play, but the Red Hawks picked it up, with junior guard Justin Wright-Foreman taking over, scoring 14 in the 3rd to drop the deficit to just 1 after three, and it was Wright-Foreman's ability to get off that seemed to really stick in Naclerio's crawl.
"It was all us," Naclerio emphatically said. "I mean you could see that Foreman had a great quarter, and we keyed on him in the first half, but in the 3rd quarter we went for steals and I don't know what else."
The Red Hawks took their first lead of the game on a slash to the rim by Jordan Wright to open the 4th, and with Cardozo settling for shots on the perimeter, Construction went up as much as 5 before the Judges, and more specifically Salnave, started to attack the rim, which led to success, and the game was eventually tied again at 62 with 33 seconds to play in the game.
Off of a timeout, Carl Balthazar inexcusably fouled Alcindor immediately to put the senior on the line where he sank a pair of FT's, and it really turned out to be a big moment, as Cardozo never got the game tied again, and though it was a tough play for the talented Cardozo big man, Naclerio didn't want to put blame onto him.
"Unfortunately you have Chris Webber with the timeout, Freddie Brown with the pass against UNC, and Carl is unfortunately going to remember that play," Naclerio stated. "He said he thought we called a play that called for a foul, but kids are kids. It's a tie score I'm not calling that play, but to Carl's credit without him this year we aren't 25-2 and I'm not mad at Carl. I love Carl."
Kristian Mondesir came down and missed a jumper with just over 10 seconds left, and Alcindor was fouled again, making 1. Cardozo then had one last chance to tie at the buzzer, but Salnave missed a running 3 as time expired, and Construction pulled off the improbable, coming back from 16 down to win the Queens Borough Championship over Cardozo, 65-62.
It was really the duo of Alcindor and Wright-Foreman who did it all, scoring 25 and 22 respectively in the game for Construction, but even though they did most of the scoring, Wright-Foreman said it was a true team effort to come back for the win.
"It was a real team effort," Wright-Foreman said. "Coach was preaching unity, and as team leader and a team captain I had to come out and take initiative, but I knew that teamwork would get the job done, and it did."
For Cardozo, Salnave had a game high 30 points, and really was the only weapon that the Judges had to get it going offensively, which is something Naclerio said might have taught his team a lesson.
"It showed that some of the kids who want a bigger piece of pie saw today one slice is good, and that 2 or 3 might be too much to handle," Naclerio said.
The coach also added that this loss will hurt, and that for him it's not winning or losing, it's misery.
With the win, this is Semper's 2nd straight Borough title, after winning at Bayside last year, and he said going into the season, his goal was a 2nd straight title at 2 different schools, but now that they have achieved this, Semper says that they want to keep it going.
"It's not over, we absolutely want to keep it rolling."
Keep it rolling is what they will now attempt to do in the City Playoffs that begin next week, and with the help of Construction's new favorite candy, Skittles, at their disposal whenever they need, anything is truly possible.