BRONX, NY - The St. Raymond Ravens had a tough regular season due to injuries. As a result, they ended their regular season with a disappointing #4 seed going into next week's CHSAA playoffs . So when head coach Oliver Antigua, scheduled two non-league games against two of the top NY public schools, even some of his players were skeptical. The Ravens, however, rose to the occasion, first defeating Abraham Lincoln on Wednesday and then 24 hours later upsetting the Boys & Girls Kangaroos, 78-77.
"We were surprised that he added two Brooklyn teams to our schedule," said Larry Graves who led the team with 22 points. "Me personally, if I were the coach, I wouldn't schedule back-to-back games. The guy is crazy." After back-to-back wins, Coach Antigua is clearly crazy...like a fox.
"A lot of people in our school, especially in our administration, thought I was nuts," said Antigua. "I [told them], we can practice for five days and get bored or load up on two quality opponents and challenge ourselves."
At home, the Ravens would take it to Boys & Girls early as Nkereuwem Okoro (15 points) drained a 3-ball. Leroy Fludd (23 points) would tie the game at six and again at 8 but PG Shane Rector (20 points) would spearhead a 10-0 Ravens' run that was capped off by buckets from Daniel Dingle (14 points) and Shawn Jones (4 points).
Down by eight points to start the second quarter, Kangaroos head Coach Ruth Lovelace implemented their patented press that disrupted the Ravens. Led by Wes Myers, who scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half, Boys High would capitalize off the turnovers that resulted. A 12-2 run by the Kangaroos would eventually overtake the Ravens as a steal by Myers off back-up point guard Akil Andrews would leave St. Ray's down 43-40 at the half.
Having recently lost a heartbreaker to league rival Cardinal Hayes after having an early lead, one would think that the Ravens would have had a flashback and thrown in the towel early but a three ball by Graves at the top of the half quickly tied and kept St. Ray's in the hunt.
"We talked about getting stops, helping each other and playing together," said Graves who compare this game to the Hayes' loss. "[Before], everybody was going for self," he said.
The lead would change hands throughout the third quarter as the pace quickened. Boys High threw down a 2-3 zone which impeded the Ravens progress. The Roos managed to increase their advantage to 11 points but a resilient Ravens squad cut the lead to 3 point to start the fourth by zone busting.
With 6:28 left to play, Rector would put the Ravens back in front but the Kangaroos fought back. Tied at 75 with 35.2 seconds left in regulation, it was anybody's game.
Each team scored and each team countered as the game neared the finish line. Twelve seconds remained and Fludd drew a foul in the paint. Draining both free-throws, Boys & Girls led 77-75. Rector also drew a foul with 6.9 seconds while driving to the hole but would go one for two from the charity stripe.
Still ahead by a point Bryce Jones (8 points) would draw a foul but miss the free-throw. In a play that embodied team spirit, Okoro would rebound, outlet to Andrews for an assist to Myron Hickman (4 points) for the lay-up and the Ravens win as time ran out and the crowd stormed the court.
Hickman, who recently returned to action after recovering from a bacterial infection, has been an integral part of St. Ray's success but has been struggling. Scoring the game winner was a morale booster for the senior according to Graves.
"He was down on himself the whole game because he wasn't really playing good," said Graves. "The two games before this he wasn't playing good so it was big for him and for the team."
Coach Antigua said he believes that the two hard fought wins have increased the team's resolve. "[Wednesday's] game was great because it was an ugly muddy game where we couldn't make shots but we defended well and Shane was the hero. Today we were in a great back and forth game where every play counts and guys made big plays for us."
Now that the Ravens have taken down two PSAL powerhouses in two days, St. Rays' has renewed momentum according to Graves. "Going into the playoffs, especially after that Cardinal Hayes loss, these last two games against tough PSAL Brooklyn teams really boosts our confidence and we think we're ready to play anybody now."
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