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MIDDLE VILLAGE, NY - In what was arguably the most anticipated in-state match-up of 2013, it would be the battle of the undefeated as #4 Christ the King hosted #2 Cardinal Hayes on Friday. But it would be the Royals' "O" that would go down hard as Hayes smacked 'em, 69-48.
"To beat a perineal power like Christ the King is a very big deal for the program," said Cardinal Head Coach Joe Lods. "My kids really prepared diligently for the game, we were up for the game and I was really happy with the effort."
A block by Christ the King's Adonis Dela Rosa shortly after the opening tip-off seemed to set the stage for what was hoped to be a knock down drag out war as a brief defensive battle ensued. Rawle Alkins (18 points & 4 rebounds)) drove in strong for the score for the Royals on the left side but Shavar Newkirk (14 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds & 7 steals) countered. With 5:30 the score was 3-2, Hayes.
Hayes was winning early on the boards and pressured the Royals guards who were without their starting point guard Andre Walker, absent for disciplinary reasons. Christ the King remained close at first due to a fastbreak started and finished by 6'4" junior Travis Atson (14 points & 4 rebounds) and a second chance shots by Alkins.
The game was tied at 11 with 1:23 but Alkins, who was running the Royals' quasi-PG duties, got pilfered which bled out to a 4-0 Hayes run as the quarter ended.
6'0" senior Bryler Paige (10 points), who also ran the point occasionally, knocked down a three for the Royals at the top of the seconds quarter but Hayes again countered and remained ahead 17-14. Alkins was in attack mode and got to the foul line, closing the gap but Hayes' smothering defense forced turnovers and began to reap benefits for the Bronx, NY team.
Big man Nathan Ekwu (14 points & 14 rebounds) was feelin' it and stepped out to hit a trey with 4:47 as the Cardinal Hayes lead grew to 20-15. Their advantage expanded once again before an Atson dunk and an Alkins and-1 sliced the Royals deficit to a bucket with 3:57.
Hayes threatened to pull-away but Alkins kept the Royals in the hunt. 1:19 was left in the half and the Cardinal still led, 27-23. Without a true point guard running the show and with 6'11" Dela Rosa all but neutralized in the paint by Hayes's bigs, the Royals chased Cardinal Hayes throughout the quarter and trailed as Mustafa Jones (14 points & 9 rebounds) punctuated the end a dominant first half with a monstrous dunk in transition.
Down 34-24, Christ the King took full advantage of halftime intermission to strategize but a confident Cardinal Hayes came out the locker room early to shoot around.
"We knew from halftime, we had the game won," said a confident Newkirk
Chris Robinson (11 points) got activated in the third quarter with a lay-up and early in the third, Hayes was up 41-26. Dela Rosa tried to step it up offensively but a seemingly endless parade Hayes bigs held him to only 3 points and 5 rebounds for the evening.
Hayes kept the pressure on and increased their lead to 51-31 forcing Royals head coach Joe Arbitello to call a timeout with 2:33 left in the third in an effort to stop the bleeding. The Cardinals kept rotating fresh bigs with AK Ojo (2 points & 5 rebounds) on Dela Rosa towards the end of the quarter.
Things went from bad to worse for CTK as sophomore guard Clive Allen (8 points) netted a three-ball in the corner pocket ending the quarter with Hayes up 56-31.
It became light work in the fourth as a demoralized Royals team and their home court fans were taken out of the game completely. 6:11 remained in regulation as a frustrated Coach Arbitello urged his team to "Come On!!"
But Hayes had amassed a 60-34 lead with no signs of letting up. Newkirk tweaked his ankle midway through the fourth but Coach Lods was seconds from subbing out his starters anyway.
Hayes eased up on their intensity in the final minutes and CK did cut the lead to 21 with 2 minutes remaining but the Cardinals, with four players scoring double digits, had done more than enough to defeat the Royals who had only lost three other times on their home court in the last five years.
"This was a reality check for both of us," said Jones. "Now they know how good we are." Robinson weighed in as well adding, "We sent a statement that we're really the best team in the league and we did that tonight."
Coach Lods said that the plan of attack was to run up and down and wear CK out. "I felt that we had a little more depth than they did." Lods acknowledged that the victory over the Royals was big for the Hayes program. "We hadn't beaten Christ the King in maybe thirty years," he said sarcastically.
"I think we ran into a team that wanted to beat us and that's what they did," said Coach Arbitello. "We were disrupted in what we wanted to do."
Arbitello conceded that the absence of Walker from their line-up got his team out of their offense but said he won't use that as an excuse "They were quicker and tougher than us. We weren't prepared for the moment with or without Andre Walker."
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