WHITE PLAINS, NY - Even though Cardinal Hayes is technically in the Bronx, when they came into the house of neighboring Archbishop Stepinac Crusaders on Friday, it felt like both a battle between two Westchester teams and a Westchester vs. NYC team all rolled up in one.
So when the Cardinals walked away with a 66-51 win it became that much more personal.
Sharpshooter Josh James (16 points) was visibly frustrated. The senior leader of the Crusaders had a subpar day from the perimeter, scoring only four field goals while shooting 8 of 11 from the foul line.
Asked if it was the Cardinals defense or simply an off night, James conceded, "A little of both. I think I rushed my shot at times but they did have good defensive pressure [on me]."
Hayes jumped off with a 6-0 run as Mustafa Jones (3 points), Shavar Newkirk (20 points) and Chris Robinson (23 points) scored inside. Stepinac was living but dying from the perimeter. It wouldn't be until 5:43 remaining in the first quarter before James would put Stepinac on the scoreboard.
The Cardinals would extend their lead to 9 points with 3:26 as a floater by Newkirk would keep the Crusaders at bay. While James was struggling from the perimeter, he did make headway when he attacked the basket. Points by the Monmouth bound senior plus buckets by Naim Thomas (6 points) would cut their deficit to 4 points as the second quarter began.
Both teams looked to pick up the pace but that strategy seemed to favor Hayes as continued misses from the arc and a lack of rebounding by Stepinac resulted in points in transitions as Tyler Wilson (9 points) pushed the rock. 3:46 was left in the first half and 9-2 run pushed the Cardinals lead to 30-19.
The Crusaders would get a gust of momentum late in the quarter from 6'2" senior James Decker (4 points) but would still trail 34-25 as both teams headed for their locker rooms at the midway point.
In the second half, Stepinac made some adjustments as they beefed up their frontcourt with 6'2"/210 Danny Hoffer (4 points) and it yielded results. The senior, who has a football scholarship to Wagner, made an imprint on the boards in the third quarter. Even though James still struggled offensively, Hoffer's rebounding and offense by DeMarcus Miller (5 points) and Decker chipped in to a 13-4 Stepinac run to finally tie the game at 38 with 2:58 left in the quarter.
Cardinals head coach Joe Lods quickly called a time out to recompose his team. "I told Shavar, you're a high division one level player. You're a stud; start acting like it," he said.
Robinson would regain the lead for Hayes and they would never look back. Newkirk, Robinson and Angel Florentino (7 points) would embark on an 8-0 run after, taking Hayes into the final quarter ahead.
Consecutive 3-balls by Newkirk and Florentino would put the Bronx squad comfortably ahead 52-38 with 7:21 left to play.
Stepinac head coach Tim Philps tried desperately to rejuvenate his deflated squad during timeouts. "[On] Makes, we pick up full court. On misses, we get back," he instructed.
Unfortunately for the Crusaders, Cardinals Hayes spread the floor and began milking the clock on every possession. Porous defense allowed Hayes to score on most of them. Soon, the hour glass would run out of sand.
Asked how his team played, Coach Lods surprisingly fell on his sword. "I think we played three good quarters. We came out in the third quarter flat but that was my fault," he said.
While the loss was a bitter pill to swallow, James served notice to Hayes saying, "We'll see them again in the playoffs."
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