Stars Shine @ CHSAA Intersectional Semis
BRONX, NY – A packed Fordham University Rose Gym was poppin’ on Thursday as the semifinal round of the Catholic League City Championship took place. Both games were highly competitive and strategic as the crème de la crème of New York talent pool faced each other, vying for a spot in Sunday’s chip with a plethora of top Division I coaches on hand to witness the action.
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Cisse blocks Loughlin; Christ the King advances, 72 – 61
The Christ the King Royals had a plan and boy did it come together. An alley-opp to 6’11” Moussa Cisse ’21 shortly after tip-off set the stage for what would morph into total domination of the Bishop Loughlin Lions for three quarters. Royals head coach Joe Arbitello said the strategy was to neutralize the 6’6” twins Julian Champagnie ‘19 and Justin Champagnie ‘19 and keep them out of the paint. “We doubled them,” he said. “I didn’t want them to beat us. If they would’ve shot 50% from three and they beat us I would’ve been OK with that.”
Christ the King leaped out front early in the first quarter off an 11 – 0 run followed up by a three-pointer by PG Sterling Jones ‘21 that left the Lions in a 13-point hole at the end of the quarter. The Royals had the twins on lock for most of the game and throughout the first three quarters they only netted a combined six points total. Much of the Champagnie’s failure to launch came as a result the defensive presence applied Cisse around the rim as he became the long arm of the law. The Royals also had good tempo as Jones ran the show and distributed the ball well.
For much of the game, Loughlin’s firepower ironically came from 5’7” Taj Chiles ‘21 and 5’6” Maurice Doby ‘20, the shortest guys on the court but with the biggest hearts. That was not enough as Christ the King received offense from 6’2 Ryan Myers, Cisse along with key shots from 6’3” Lovell Smith '20 expanding its lead to 32 – 17 at the half capped off by a buzzer beater, this time by 6’3’ Nicholas Molina 19.
To start the third quarter, Cisse served up yet another alley-opp dunk followed up by baskets from Myers, 6’3” Malik Lacewell and 6’4 Nate Curry '19. Bishop Loughlin tried a press in an effort to reduce its deficit but things only got worse as the Lions fell behind by a game high 21 points at the end of three quarters.
Hope for the Lions was package around Jones, who sprained his ankle in the third quarter and the Royals began to flail without his presence. Julian Champagnie then managed to free himself up from Christ the King’s shackles briefly and trifectas from Chiles and Doby along with CTK's absence of a true point guard helped pull the Lions to within 9 points with 2:45 left in regulation. That point spread was nothing more than fool’s gold as Cisse continued to own the airspace above the rim on both offense and defense.
With about two-minutes left in regulation, Jones reentered the game although clearly limping with a flat tire but he did enough to get the Royals back on track and over the finish line notching 9 points and 7 assists. “Every teams needs a point guard,” said Coach Arbitello. “He made free-throws [down the stretch]. He made a defensive play. He’s our point guard. I feel comfortable with the ball in his hands [even injured].”
Cisse finished the game one block away from a triple double scoring 22 points and 19 rebounds with Myers contributing 17 points and 6 rebounds. Chiles led Loughlin with 17 points, 2 assists and 3 rebounds with Julian Champagnie finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Stepinac Overpowers Cardinal Hayes, 77 – 65
The Crusaders have two of the most dynamic players in the city if not the nation in 6'6" A.J. Griffin '21 and 5’'11" R.J. Davis '20. Hayes has the CHSAA’s MVP in Iowa-bound point guard Joe Toussaint '19 along with talented up and coming scoring guard in Jaylen Murray ‘20. Both teams had good supporting casts and that made for the recipe of a great game. That was served up as the game exceeded the hype.
Archbishop Stepinac surged ahead early and stayed ahead for the entire game while withstanding a full-blown onslaught of almost mythical proportions in the final quarter. “The biggest thing was to limit them on the three-point line,” said Stepinac head coach Pat Massaroni. “We tried to take them out of what they do really well which is shoot the three.”
Toussaint was aggressive for the Cardinals and for good reason. Lose this game and his high school career is over. That in an of itself was not enough however as Griffin and 6'3" Eddie Sanchez '19 propelled the Crusaders up by 10 point as the first quarter concluded.
Davis began having an impact on the game in the second quarter with Griffin consistently scored from the perimeter. The Crusaders lead grew to 38 – 24 at the half and being unable to catch up to Stepinac was becoming an ever-growing issue for Cardinal Hayes. With 1:08 left in the quarter, there was moment of happiness for Hayes and Toussaint as the senior broke the school’s scoring record.
Feelings got ramped up in the third quarter as emotions crescendoed into techs on Toussaint and Crusader’s sharpshooter and tough guy 6’1” Luke Fizulich ’20. Suddenly the game became personal. Toussaint began receiving back up from 5’1 Julian Soumaoro ‘20 and Murray but they were still down by 10 points going into the fourth quarter with Toussaint now saddled with 4 fouls.
After netting 4 points in the first half, Murray charged up the hill for the Cardinals and went nuclear as did Davis for Stepinac. The two guards matched 3-ball for 3-ball and jumper for jumper. Davis’s specialty was drive and pullup while Murray did the James Harden step back on occasion.
Toussaint stepped up and facilitated, closing the gap to 5 points with 3:59 to play but it was free-throws and a three-ball by Fizulich that secured the win for Stepinac and sent spectators to the exits.
“We tried to match their physicality and I thought our guys did that when it got tight in the third and fourth quarter.” Massaroni said.
Griffin was high man for Stepinac with 35 points and 11 rebounds. Davis added 25 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds. Toussaint finished with 25 points, 3 assists and 5 rebounds.