NEW YORK, NY - Certain games end up being games that make teams, and for Bishop Loughlin on Saturday in the championship game of the SNY Invitational against St. Anthony of New Jersey, this was their shot.
Lions Head Coach Ed Gonzalez has been preaching and stressing defense all year long, and when the Lions needed big defensive stops late in this one, they got it, as a 21-2 run midway through the 4th quarter out blew away the Friars, and handed Loughlin a real statement win, along with the SNY title, 69-55.
In watching the Friars play last night against Cardozo, Gonzalez said he picked up on something, and he knew that if St. Anthony were to beat them, it was going to be by them hitting shots.
"That was the game plan going in. We watched their game yesterday and they do a lot of good things, so we decided to change things up and say if they are going to best us, it's going to be with the long ball," Gonzalez said.
So instead of playing man to man like Loughlin likes to do, they were going to challenge the Friars to beat them from the perimeter, and early on, it was a dogfight.
Markis McDuffie was able to split the zone and find himself along the baseline for easy baskets for the Friars, while St. Anthony's guard Tarin Smith was elusive in transition getting to the rim.
Loughlin though wasn't going to be denied in the early going with threes from Jayvian Delacruz and Isaak Bodon giving the Lions the lead, and a couple of driving slashes by Khadeen Carrington in transition extended the lead to 35-25 at the half for Bishop Loughlin, with the Lions looking extremely poised and under control.
It's not always easy to take it to St. Anthony's, as the Friars have a rich history, and are coached very well by Bob Hurley, but Loughlin's Mike Williams, who struggled for most of the opening half, said the team didn't go in focused in the opponent too much, instead treating them like any other team.
"We just came in wanting to play basketball. Even though they are a highly ranked team we came in with the mindset that they were just any ordinary team," Williams said.
Gonzalez stress that at halftime he told his group to keep attacking the basket, and keep up the defensive intensity, but the Friars weren't going to back down, and after chipping away at the Lions lead, St. Anthony finally tied it at 43 with 5:42 to go in the 4th quarter.
One player who struggled up until that point was Williams, who seemed to not get good looks at the rim on his shots, but he said after the game, that his team kept encouraging him, knowing that he would play a major role still in the game.
"I was a bit down at that point, but my teammates kept saying Mike shoot the ball, one is gonna fall, and one finally did," Williams said.
The one that did for Williams was maybe the biggest shot of the game. He knocked down a contested wing three, and after a Smith turnover on the other end, Delacruz hit a three of his own. Clearly grabbing momentum back, Hurley said at that point, after the second three, he became concerned.
"They hit one three, and then another, and when it got to 6, it really just got away from us. They got out in transition and from that point on it was basically a lay up drill," Hurley said.
He was right as Loughlin pressured the ball in the backcourt, and in the halfcourt, they sat their 2-3 zone, and the Friars kept missing leading to easy transition buckets for the Lions. After seeing the game get tied at 43, Loughlin went on a 21-2 run over the next 3+ minutes to completely put the game away, cruising home to the 69-55 victory.
Carrington had a game high 20 points along with 10 rebounds in the win, while Williams and Delacruz added 17 and 15 respectively for the Lions. While they shined offensively, Carrington said the defense is the thing the team will take from this big win.
"We can play defense, we have slacked a bit on defense this year, but we held them to under 60 and that was a big goal that we accomplished," Carrington said.
For the Friars, McDuffie paced the way with 14 points and 13 rebounds, with Smith chipping in with 13.
Hurley though understood that a couple things in the game, more than anything else stood out and hurt his team.
"We were 3-20 from 3," Hurley explained. When you shoot 3-20 you just won't win many games."
He added the defense has let him down as well.
"We have been giving up on average, 45 points a game this season, and in the last 3 games it's been 62, 61, and now 69 points. Our offense isn't good enough to make up that gap," Hurley dejectedly said.
Carrington and Williams though were ecstatic after the win, both claiming that they want this win to propel them towards a CHSAA city championship, something both say they crave before they head off to college next season.
And while Gonzalez was happy after the win, taking down a talented St. Anthony's team, he understands that it doesn't here.
"We have a talented Holy Cross team on Tuesday, then we go to a very good St. Francis Prep team on Wednesday, and then Christ the King comes to us on Friday so there isn't much time to enjoy this one," Gonzalez said.
He smiled though, and admitted he will take some time to soak it in.
"To beat Coach Hurley who is such a great coach, with such a good team means a lot, so I will enjoy it for 1 day. The kids will have off tomorrow, but it's back in the gym on Monday ready to go."
Cardozo Slams St. Mary's, 76-52
In the SNY Invitational consolation game, Cardozo came back from a difficult loss to St. Mary's yesterday and take the easy 24 point win.
The Judges got out fast taking a 45-18 lead into the half, and the thing that impressed Cardozo Coach Ron Naclerio most going into the locker room, was to see the team finally let out all the hurt they had from the night before.
"To walk into halftime and see all the pain from last night exhaled out of there bodies was the best part, it was very important because if we don't play well and lose, things could start to tumble negatively, you just don't know, so the 1st half, and coming out the way we did meant a lot," Naclerio said.
The Judges coasted the rest of the way for the comfortable victory with Elijah McNeely leading the way for Cardozo with 17 points. Francisco Williams added 16 points and 12 boards in the win, while Rashond Salnave chipped in with 13 points.
Stephen Milhaven gave a very solid effort for St. Mary's in defeat with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Naclerio after the win said he believes this Cardozo team can go as far as any team in the city in his eyes, while Salnave said that he feels if the team plays as they did today, then watch out.
"If we come out with the same intensity we did today, I think we can beat anybody."