BROOKLYN, NY - To start their season, the NYCHoops.net #2 ranked Christ the King Royals (CHSAA) from Middle Village, NY decided to go into the belly of the beast and play Thomas Jefferson Campus (PSAL) on their home turf.
Switching from mano y mano to a zone defense, the Royals would eventually rise up and surf the Orange Wave, 92-81.
"I thought it was good that [we] had to come out here and had to fight and battle and see exactly how tough we are," said Christ the King head coach Joe Arbitello.
From the onset, the raucous Jefferson home crowd mimicked the team's intensity as they looked to intimidate the Royals into playing their physical brand of basketball. For a while, it seemed to be working.
Jefferson head coach Lawrence "Bud" Pollard constantly pumped his squad throughout the contest. "These guys ain't that good," he said during the heat of battle.
Spirited play by 6'1" junior, Jalen Evans (6 points) and a jumper by 5'9" junior Rachard Moody (13 points) would put the Orange Wave up 21-18 to start the second quarter.
"We gotta keep it at our pace," yelled Coach Pollard to his team during a huddle.
The erratic helter skelter pace favored Jefferson. A strong move to the hole by 6'1" junior Jaquan Lynch (27 points) and a basket by 6'5" junior Jermoine "Flirt" Faison (17 points) would put the Brooklyn squad ahead 34-27 with 5:07 left until half time.
"We knew coming in that they were gonna come with the crazy crowd," said CTK shooting guard Omar Calhoun who scored a team high 23 points. "We just had to stay composed and fight through it."
With Orange Wave players focused in on the prolific UConn-bound Calhoun, who was held to 8 first half points, it would be offense by 6'2" junior Jon Severe (22 points) in transition that would start to turn the tide of momentum towards the Royals.
The gap would narrow until with a 1:17 left in the half, 6'10 sophomore center Adonis Dela Rosa (7 points) would draw fouls and give the Royals their first lead of the second quarter from the charity stripe.
As time wound down, Moody would tie the game at 42 but Jordan Fuchs (12 points) would knock down a jumper at the buzzer to send Christ the King into the locker room holding on to a lead. Although, the Orange Wave was slightly down at the intermission they still felt like they had accomplished a lot. Especially without their star player, 6'5" senior Thaddeus Hall, sidelined due to academic ineligibility. "I don't think nobody thought we were gonna do that good," said Hall who tried to hype up his teammates throughout the game.
For the Royals, escaping the first half with a 44-42 lead was a momentum builder but Coach Arbitello knew momentum would not be enough.
"They wanna get to the basket. We knew that," said Arbitello. "The one area where we've struggled is our defensive rotation."
Arbitello said that due to the ineffectiveness of defending in man-to-man, he switched to a 1-3-1 zone, late in the second quarter which he credits for the 2 point halftime lead.
In the second half, the Royals unleashed a stifling 1-2-2 zone which further slowed the game and began to silence the crowd. "They had trouble with our zone," said Arbitello.
Coach Pollard agreed."[Christ the King] played a zone and we had like a four minute scoring drought where we couldn't make baskets or hit free-throws. That's a time where we missed Thaddeus," he said.
The consequence was a 20-4 run in the third quarter, paced by 6'2" junior Isaiah Lewis (19 points) and Calhoun. Treys by Lynch closed the deficit somewhat but Christ the King was comfortably ahead 68-53 to start the fourth quarter.
While the Orange Wave players were tenacious on the boards, the Royals, especially Fuchs, were even more tenacious. "They killed us on the boards," said Pollard.
Jefferson would cut the lead to seven but a Calhoun trifecta with 4:59 left in regulation bumped the lead back to double digits. With their zone firmly entrenched, the Royals effectively squashed any hopes of a Jefferson comeback.