BRIARWOOD, NY - In a battle of NYCHoops.net Top 10 ranked teams, #8 Archbishop Molloy hosted #7 St. Francis Prep, and after a first half that saw the Terriers take control, it was the Stanners who adjusted their defense, and went on a big 13-0 run to push past SFP, 76-67.
Prep came out strong in this one, and junior guard Jordan Santiago noted that the Terriers coaching staff stressed the importance of getting out to a quick start.
"Coach started practice yesterday telling us about the energy we needed. It's at Molloy, it's a big rival, and he wanted us coming out strong," Santiago said.
The long ball really propelled St. Francis Prep early on, with Santiago, Michael Fields, and Shane Herrity each connected from deep in the early going, and the Terriers had all the momentum. It could've been worse but Gabe Kilpatrick hit a three of his own for Molloy to trim the deficit for the Stanners to 18-13 after 1.
It was a bit of a surprise to see Molloy come out as lackluster as they did on the early going, and Stanners point guard, Columbia bound C.J. Davis, said that it was possibly a case of taking a good team a little too lightly.
"They came out with great intensity. They came in here ready to beat us, and we probably overlooked them a bit thinking we would blow them out, but to their credit they came out and took it to us right away," Davis said.
It didn't change much in the 2nd quarter as Prep moved the ball well, and got into the lanes, taking a 32-27 lead into the half, and while Terriers Coach Tim Leary was happy with the lead, he was left to wonder what if.
"If we make a couple lay ups that we missed there in the 1st half and cut out a couple of the bonehead plays we made, maybe we are up more at the half and who knows what happens then," Leary said.
The reason he felt that way was because of what happened in the 3rd. Molloy abandoned the man to man defense they were played and went to a zone, that wasn't actually the plan, but it was something Stanners coach Mike McCleary decided to do early in the quarter.
"We came out of the half and said we would be switching between man and zone and in the first two possessions they got two easy lay ups so I figured let's stick with the zone and see what happens," McCleary said.
What happened was that Prep couldn't operate their offense. They settled for bad shots as Molloy played the 2-3 zone to perfection. The Terriers took flat footed threes according to Leary, and the Stanners took advantage.
Going the other way Davis, and sophomore guard Aaron Walker were able to get out in transition, scoring easy buckets off their strong defense, which paced a 13-0 run midway through the 3rd which gave Molloy the lead for good, but it was the defense that really changed the game according to Davis.
"We saw on the man to man they were getting a lot of back doors, and we weren't rotating enough, so we said let's just play a 2-3 and try and contain them. It ended up working out pretty well for us," Davis said.
St. Francis Prep did try and make runs late in the game, but missed FT's and getting out-rebounded really hurt them, and it was the fact that they were pushed around in the 2nd half that really upset Leary most.
"We are not happy we got out-physical'd tonight. They really took it to us on the glass, plus we gave up 49 points in the 2nd half, and no one has done that to us all year," Leary added.
Prep was able to cut it to 6 on a couple occasions in the closing minutes, but each time they did, Davis and Walker were there to make big plays, as Molloy rebounded from a tough loss on Tuesday, to pick up an important league win over SFP, 76-67.
Walker led Molloy with 21 points and 13 rebounds, while Davis, who McCleary says has been the man all year, had 20 points, 9 assists, and 9 rebounds in a fantastic all around effort.
The Terriers were led by Santiago's 23 points, while Herrity added 19 in the loss.
It really was what could've been for St. Francis Prep, as Santiago was left to wonder if the would've done what they feel they should've, what may have happened.
"We weren't aggressive enough when we needed to be. We weren't attacking the holes, we were just swinging the ball around and nothing was happening," Santiago said.
Leary stressed that while disappointed, he is hoping for his team's second wind, as they play most of their big remaining games, against Christ the King, Molloy, and Holy Cross, all at home.
McCleary, who said that he expects a war every time the Stanners and Terriers meet, said he want surprised with the performance he got from his guys in the 2nd half, especially Walker, who he says has been stepping up his game in practice recently, but he added that it really is about Davis, and what he gives to this team.
"Every time we need a play made, C.J. makes it," McCleary said. "In every game it's been a different person for us, with the consistent factor being C.J. C.J. has been terrific every game, but every day someone else is stepping forward, and today it was Aaron who was huge."
How far can this Molloy squad go is the question now. McCleary noted that these group of Stanner seniors won the freshmen title 3 years ago, which gives them a lot of confidence, and Davis said he believes the league is wide open, and ripe for the taking.
"There isn't a dominate team that is winning every game. Every team sees that the championship is up for grabs," Davis added.
Whether they can get that elusive title is one thing, but McCleary is squarely now focused on Tuesday against Cardinal Hayes, and he says if you call his team anything, you can call them one thing, battlers.
"Our kids are getting pretty good at battling on an everyday basis. Christ the King last week, Loughlin this past Tuesday, Prep today, Hayes next Tuesday, and it doesn't get any easier after that, so we will be tested, and we will be ready."