BRONX, NY - An inter-borough game is always a rivalry but even more so when one team is the defending CHSAA champion and the other ultimately wants their belt. Top that off with the champion having home court advantage and Friday's come from behind upset win by St. Raymond over Cardinal Hayes is that much more significant
"I told them it was gonna be a dogfight," said St. Rays head coach Jorge Lopez. "My question to them was [are] you gonna be that young team that everybody thinks you guys are or are you gonna be that talented young team that comes in here and play your best basketball?"
25 points and 5 assists later, sophomore point guard Jaquan McKennon answered that question in spades as he led the Ravens to an 84-79 win
An unrelenting defensive press resulted in points in transition as the Cardinals went about their business as usual in the first half. Tyler Wilson (7 points), Chris Robinson (17 points) and Shavar Newkirk (17 points) helped build a two point first quarter lead. A 7-0 run late in the second quarter topped off by a buzzer beater by lefty Mustafa Jones (12 points) sent Hayes into the locker room brimming with confidence and a 44-31 halftime lead.
Coach Lopez sought to steady his young squad during the half. "We gotta do a better job handling the pressure. We worked on that all week in practice," said Lopez who admitted that the hostile on the road environment rattled St. Rays early on.
Lopez made a subtle change as well, utilizing combo guard Tory Ferguson (12 points) more to bring the ball upcourt. A bit quicker than McKennon , the Ravens began to make inroads. "We finally gained that confidence and understood what it was that we needed to do," Lopez said.
As the Ravens began to puncture Hayes' defense, they also began to get offensive and defensive production from 6'9" powerhouse Luis Santos who punished Hayes with vicious dunks and blocks while assistant coaches from St. John's and Rutgers watched intently.
"They're sophomore beat up on our junior and senior," said Cardinals head coach Joe Lods with regard to Santos dominating their frontcourt with 17 points and 9 rebounds. "Santos had like seven dunks."
Although the Ravens only cut their deficit to 9 points to begin the fourth quarter, they began to build momentum as they manage to finally stand toe-to-toe with the heavily favored Cardinals.
"I told my teammates, don't give up," said McKennon who put on a show in the fourth quarter. "We fight 'til the end."
And fight they did. McKennon began to shake, bake and score. With 6:24 left in regulation a nice feed from him to Santos for the mid-range shot pulled the Ravens to within 5 points. Robinson would once again put Hayes up by double-digits but one could sense that Hayes was back-peddling as the visiting Raven fans let the home crowd have it as the score grew closer and closer.
McKennon stepped his game up another notch and with 2:22 scored an acrobatic and-1 bucket that made the score 75-71, setting off a 7-0 run that shifted the momentum for good. A desperate Cardinals squad began to commit costly turnovers and with 1:15 left to play, back-back buckets by the tag team of McKennon and Santos gave St. Ray's their first lead 76-75.
With 40 second left to play and down by three, the Cardinals would pull to within a point but freethrows by McKennon would seal the deal.
"I'm embarrassed for my guys," said a dejected Coach Lods. "I told them all to put on their big boy underwear before the game and they didn't. It was a fight and we got knocked out."