BAYSIDE, NY - Years ago, Holy Cross assistant coach Lloyd Desvigne once said that bigger teams will first try to bully you.
When that doesn't work, they then try to run plays. Such was the case on Wednesday when a large and lengthy L.I. Lutheran went up against the guard heavy Holy Cross Knights.
While LuHi tried to pound them down, Coach Desvigne would instruct the senior-laden Knights to stay true to their hybrid man-to-man defense, well executed pick n' pop sets and perimeter shooting. The result would be a 59-54 OT win. The loss would evict the defending champs from the Beacon Back-to-School Classic and advance the Knights to play either Dozo (B) or St. Mary's (Manhasset, NY).
In the opening half, as predicted by Desvigne, the beefy LuHi Crusaders tried to go through and/or over top the Knights in the paint. At first, they were effective as lanky forward, Kentan Facey (16 points), put the Brookville, NY squad ahead early with midrange fall-away shots and baby hooks. Slovakian transfer Viktor Zambor (17 points) also stung Holy Cross from the perimeter which kept the Crusaders out in front for the first 10 minutes of the half.
The Knights had their hands full as 6'6" thinly framed Mairega Clark (10 points) was left with the task of fending off both Facey and 6'9" wide-body Ryan Denicola (7 points) but the team from Flushing was up to the task.
Playing man-to-man defense while steering Luhi's guards into sideline traps, the Knights began to get turnovers. Strong drives by Marquise Moore (16 points) and a free-throw by Eddie Rocigno soon knotted the low scoring game at 8 with 8:46 remaining.
Holy Cross could have had the lead but poor free-throw shooting led to transition points by Facey and Austin Lebo (5 points). With 6 minutes left to the half, Zambor would extend the Crusaders lead to 5 points.
LuHi could not shake the Knights resolve as a put-back by Clarke and a trey by Will Davis (7 points) knotted the game again at 17. Baskets by Clark and Jamel Rosier (2 points) finally gave the Knights a 21-19 lead at the 1:53 mark. Once again, subpar free-throw shooting led to baskets by K.J. Lee (7 points) and Facey which gave LuHi a 27-24 lead going into the locker room.
Denicola was aggressive early in the second half and extended the LuHi lead. Holy Cross was clearly having problems with Lutheran's physicality as well as with Facey's length. The Long Islanders, however, began to play into Holy Cross's hands even though they held on to the lead throughout most of the half. By defending the Knights using a two-three zone, it allowed sharpshooter Anthony Libroia (9 points) a license to thrill the crowd with three-pointers. LuHi held on to a 5 point lead with 4:37 but after a 8-2 Holy Cross run sparked by Moore, the Knights took the lead and had the Crusaders back peddling.
18 seconds were left in regulation and LuHi was still down by three but a trey from the top of the key by Lee would send the game into overtime, tied at 50.
Clarke would strike first, giving Holy Cross the first lead in the three minute OT. Zambor would counter with a two but Libroia would raise his hand with a 3-ball, giving the Knights a 55-52 advantage with 1:52 remaining in the first overtime.
Lutheran would play follow the leader throughout the overtime and with 19.3 seconds remaining and down by three, Lee would try for a repeat performance. This time, his trey from the top of the key would fall short and the curtain would fall on Lutheran.
Clearly perturbed by the loss, LuHi head coach John Buck let out a tasty little tidbit as he walked off. Hinting at the induction of a new high-powered Crusader into the ranks, Buck uttered a warning to future opponents. "We've got a new addition [to our team], Big time!," he said.
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