BRONX, NY - Trash talk is dual-natured. On one hand, it can deflate an opponent's confidence and put them in a subconscious state of panic. But it can also backfire and create fuel that will come back to haunt the antagonist. The St. Raymond's Ravens chose the latter approach for their third meeting with the Cardinal Hayes Cardinals this season.
"[St. Ray's Head] Coach [Oliver Antigua] told us that [Cardinal Hayes] was talking trash about us," said shooting guard Larry Graves. "And they came into our gym really confident."
Hayes had a right to be a bit confident after trouncing the Ravens, 82-58, in their last meeting. But Graves would make sure that Hayes ate their words with a side order of humble pie - the 6'1" marksman poured in a whopping 19 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to turn the tables on the Cardinals and help the Ravens advance to the Archdiocese of NY championship game with a solid 81-73 win.
"Larry was the difference today, he just went off," said Coach Antigua. "He's our best shooter."
From both behind the arc and at the stripe, Graves simply couldn't miss. With the game locked in chess match mode after both teams took turns seizing momentum in the first half, the stocky senior nailed his second trey of the fourth quarter to put the Cardinals up 63-61 - they would never relinquish their lead. Junior point guard Shane Rector played Robin to Graves' Batman, as the pair combined to shoot an astounding 15-16 from the stripe in the fourth quarter. The irony? The Batman and Robin tandem is usually code for the senior front court of Nkereuwem Okoro and Daniel Dingle.
"We know most of the teams we play will key in on [Okoro and Dingle]," said Rector, who ran the point solidly all game and knocked down shots en route to a game high 23 points. "So we all have to step up."
Though Okoro and Dingle (4 points and 16 points, respectively) got on the board early, it was Myron Hickman (7 points) that anchored the Ravens at first. But it wasn't enough to stop Hayes from making runs. The speed of the three-pronged back court of Tyler Wilson, Shavar Newkirk, and Naasir Williams created havoc on defense and created dribble penetration. Chris Robinson scored all 11 of his points in a second quarter that began with Hayes in the midst of a 12-0 run. Okoro began to settle for perimeter shots and Dingle turned the ball over a few times - others had to step up. And they did.
"I like what I see from my team right now - balance," Coach Antigua said. "Shane, Myron, and Shawn [Jones] all contributed in a team effort."
Rector carried the torch for the Ravens and didn't get much help for much of the second quarter, but a strong finish from Dingle clipped an eight point Hayes lead to a four point lead at halftime (34-30).
Newkirk (11 points), Williams, and Jalen Jenkins (14 points) fought to keep things close, but foul-hampered center Amadou Sidibe being on the bench took away some of the Cardinals' inside intimidation factor. Dingle gave Sidibe fouls three and four in the third quarter, further limiting his action. But the Ravens needed a big time x-factor to make the final push, and Graves knew it was time to step up.
"I didn't play well in the first half," he admitted. "But coach told me to keep shooting and playing my game." Jones nailed a pair of treys to warm up the perimeter for his teammate, and once Graves got loose, he pulled the rug out from underneath Hayes.
"The difference between this game and the others is we played more under control," said Graves, who hit two threes and shot 9-9 from the line during crunchtime. "And we believed in ourselves."
Hayes did the opposite. When a ball-hawking Graves goaded Wilson into giving him a stiff arm and the foul was called, Hayes Head Coach Joe Lods picked up the technical foul. Graves smiled, pouring more salt on the wound as Hayes had no answers late in the game besides Williams, who sunk three treys in the fourth quarter and finished with a team high 20 points.
"I lost three games with [one of the referees officiating each game]," joked Coach Lods after the game. "But all the credit goes to St. Ray's. [Coach Antigua] did a great job and they're a great team with a lot of talented players. We just have to regroup."
The Ravens will play the Mt. Saint Michael Mountaineers in the Archdiocesan or New York Championship on Saturday February 25th at 1:45pm at Mt. St. Michael HS. The Mountaineers topped St. Peters 66-47 in the second semifinals game to advance led by PG Malik Gill and Anthony Maestre with 17 points each.
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