In a heavyweight match up between two of the city's top powers, it was the Rice Raiders that emerged victorious once again in a thrilling 87-80 victory over nemesis St. Raymond's before a boisterous crowd at Fordham's Rose Hill gym in the Bronx on Friday night.
Connecticut bound senior point guard Kemba Walker was sensational for NYCHoops #1 ranked Rice, scoring 23 of his game high 39 points in the second half as the Raiders took care of a valiant St. Ray's crew, ranked #2. Senior West Virginia commit Darryl Bryant and 6'3" junior shooting guard Omari Lawrence did all they could to keep the Ravens in the game, scoring a respective 27 and 22 points, but the Raiders were too strong in the second half as they hung on for the tough win despite a furious rally by St. Rays in the last three minutes that kept the crowd in the game.
St. Ray's took control early, jumping out to a quick 5-0 lead on a Lawrence three-pointer and a nice pull up jumper by junior 6'6" forward Kevin Parrom. Rice would have an immediate answer, though as they focused on driving the lane and getting to the line. It was a tough and tense first half, highlighted by good defense but even better offense by both teams as they hit tough shots inside and answered each other's three-pointer's almost immediately.
Bryant was great early on, knocking down multiple three's and showing some nice hang time on a couple of tough lay-ups that got the crowd rocking. With Walker and Drexel bound shooting guard Chris Fouch struggling a bit in the first, Rice got a nice lift from 6'7" senior swingman Dorvell Carter and 6'3" combo guard Durand Scott. As St. Ray's took a 28-21 lead midway through the second period, Walker woke up and ignited a quick 8-0 run that gave Rice their first lead of the game at 29-28 with 3:30 to go in the half.
After a Jeff Harris three pointer seemed to give the Raiders momentum, Lawrence took matters into his own hands and brought the crowd to their feet with monster two handed jam on a breakaway steal. Two quick Bryant 3-pointer's and a pretty 15 footer by Parrom with less than three seconds in the half put the Ravens up 44-41 at the midway point.
With the second half under way, Rice tightened up their defense and frustrated St. Ray's with their pressing half court traps, causing numerous bad passes which led to a couple of easy lay-ups for the Raiders. Carter and junior forward James Stukes where solid on "D" inside for Rice drawing multiple charges on the Ravens and taking care of the boards as St. Ray's started settling for tough shots.
A Walker 3-pointer that put Rice up 58-53 with 1:30 to go in the third was quickly matched by Lawrence, who single handedly kept St. Ray's in the period with nine points. His beautiful fall away jumper just before the end of the period would tie the game at 60 for the Ravens. However, that would be the last time they would be that close.
Rice would take a back and forth game and put the Ravens in a deep hole on a 17-4 run in the fourth period that put the Raiders up 77-64 with just under five minutes to play. With Walker going to work and seeming to be unstoppable at this point, it was hard to imagine the Ravens getting back into it. But that is exactly what they did. While Bryant couldn't buy a bucket for much of the second half, he led the charge as the Ravens scratched and clawed their way back to make it 83-80 on "Truck's" coast-to-coast lay-up. Rice did their best to let St. Ray's back in it missing several foul shots down the stretch.
"Yeah, I was concerned," Rice head coach Maurice Hicks said about the foul shooting. "We are better finishers than that. I told my guys that."
However, when it counted most, Walker came up big. With St. Ray's playing tough defense down by three and hoping to get the ball back with a chance to tie the game, Walker weaved around three defenders off a Scott pick and hit a cold blooded dagger of a jumper as the shot clock expired to give Rice a 85-80 lead with 23 seconds to go while deflating the Ravens. After a desperation three-pointer by Tyreak Johnson fell short for St. Ray's, Walker calmly hit two free throws to ice the game and give Rice the victory.
"Any time you have a playmaker like that, you get the ball in his hands," Hicks said of Walker's tough shot.
"Coach was looking for me," Walker said. "He asked Durand to set a screen for me, and I just took the shot and it went in. Thankfully."
Carter and Scott both added 16 points for Rice. St. Ray's star Parrom was quiet on offense again against the Raiders, scoring only six points. Rice has now won six straight over St. Ray's. Lawrence said it is something to think about.
"It's a hurdle we have to get over," said Lawrence, who was gracious in defeat. "We have to see them several times a year. We have to overcome this and we have to stay focused."
Lawrence thought that the Ravens had a good chance of completing the unlikely comeback until Walker's shot took back the momentum.
"Yeah, we thought we were gonna finish strong," Lawrence said. "It hurt us. That was a tough shot he made."
St. Ray's looks to get back on track next Friday against All Hallows. Rice, meanwhile, has a tough game at NYCHoops #4 ranked Bishop Loughlin this Sunday afternoon.
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