BRONX, NY - After their game against Cardinal Hayes just before Christmas where the Christ the King Royals got throttled, head coach Joe Arbitello knew his team needed to re-evaluate who they were.
In his eyes they needed to play harder and want it more, and they stepped up their game and won the Stop-DWI Holiday Classic championship taking down Long Island Lutheran to win it. Monday, in their first game since taking down LuHi, they traveled to take on St. Raymond in an important road league game to continue the momentum they have been building.
The game would not be easy, and once again the Royals would not be at full strength. While they got back Andre Walker, they were going to be without big man Adonis Delarosa, who was forced to sit because he was late to school. It was going to be a challenge without Delarosa going up against Ravens big man Luis Santos, but CK met the challenge, and behind superb efforts from Rawle Alkins, Travis Atson, and sophomore star Tyrone Cohen, the Royals held on for the 71-66 win.
It dates back to the Hayes game though, a 69-48 loss left the defending champs scratching their heads, and according to Arbitello, everyone on the team, himself included, needed to take a long look at things.
"Everyone needed to look themselves in the mirror at that point, myself included," Arbitello said,
It got worse too as the day after that loss when they watched the tape of the game. Arbitello admitted he was not the nicest guy in the world during the viewing, something Atson backed up.
"He was pretty mad. He stood in front of the screen yelling at us for just about every play. It was not a great day for sure," Atson said.
The team could've went another way after a loss like that, but they bonded together, won an impressive title in upstate New York after Christmas, and now looked poised to take down a struggling, but still talented St. Ray's team. Walker was back, but Delarosa was now out this game due to lateness, a move Arbitello backs and believes makes his kids stronger.
"At the end of the day students breaking policies of Christ the King need to be punished, or once you go to college, you won't be prepared. We instill values in them that I believe makes them more prepared for when they do leave here," the coach would say about the situation.
It was going to be a tough loss, and Arbitello fully understood just how big it was.
"If there was a game to miss, the last one I'd want him to miss would be the St. Ray's one because of Santos."
It would be tough, but the most impressive part of the game, was the fact that in the first half, everything the Royals threw at Santos, worked. He struggled to even get in positions for touches. Alkins on the inside guarded him to start, and he blocked a couple shots of his, and Cohen, who had 14 first half points, was out hustling, and out working Santos, who was held to just 5 first half points. You expected Christ the King to play well, but to be up 37-21 without Delarosa surprised Ravens Head Coach Jorge Lopez, and the play of Santos surprised him even more.
"We were intimidated by them in the first half, and Luis wasn't very good. It got to a point where at halftime I asked him if he was ok," Lopez explained. "He said he was ok. I actually think maybe it was overconfidence knowing Delarosa wasn't playing. I challenged him though to step up in the 2nd half and show what he was made of."
It was time for St. Ray's to make a statement according to Lopez. To not just lay down, and the Ravens did exactly what he asked.
It didn't start out that way, as CK led 62-48 with 5:22 to go, but pressure defense applied by Tory Ferguson and Caheim Brown, was starting to rattle Christ the King some, and cause turnovers. Ferguson was much more aggressive getting to the rim, and Santos was a beast inside. He was given the ball time and time again, and he finished more times than not. A pair of thunderous 2 handed jams by Santos, and a fast break drive by Ferguson helped St. Ray's go on a 12-2 run in a 3 minute span to make it a 64-60 game with 2:23 to play.
It was a drastic change as the Royals were seemingly in control, but pace of play and what exactly to do with the lead may have played a role into the decreasing lead.
"We got a bit unorganized, and we weren't sure if we wanted to play fast, or slow it down, and Santos was going off so we doubled him and when we did, it gave them a lot of 2nd chance opportunities," Arbitello said.
Enter Alkins. The big play machine stepped up his game late, and a monster dunk over Santos when the Royals needed a big play sure seemed to give CK the spark they needed, and in Alkins mind, the dunk really changed the mindset of everyone involved.
"Once I dunked in him they lost their confidence. He's there best player and they aren't used to something like that, so I felt like I almost took their soul right there," Alkins said about the dunk.
It was a big play, but it wasn't over. St. Ray's was able to close it to 4 once again, with the ball, with 37 seconds to go. Santos got the ball in good position in the paint, and he had an easy dunk chance inside that would've cut it to just 2, but he missed the throwdown, and going the other way Marcus Layne scored a layup in transition to make it 68-62, a play that Lopez knew was the backbreaker.
"I really thought we had it, but he missed that dunk and when he did right there I just was like ahhhh, and I knew that was it," Lopez admitted.
That truly was it. Ferguson missed a three, and then Atson threw down another dunk, and Christ the King took the 71-66 victory over St. Raymond in a game that ended up being a real barnburner at the end.
Cohen finished with a game high 20 points for Christ the King, while Alkins and Atson added 18 and 17 respectively in the win.
In defeat, Santos paced the way for St. Raymond with 17 points, with Ferguson adding 16, though they combined for just 7 in the 1st half, a stat that really did them in ultimately.
Arbitello, while not thrilled with the final few minutes, knew that coming in here and getting the victory was the most important thing.
"Thank goodness they only made the concerted effort to get Santos involved in the 2nd half and not the 1st too," Arbitello said. "The bottom line really is though that in a tough game, we got the W."
He admitted that it's possible the team may have still been riding a high from last season's championship win, but says Joe Lods and Cardinal Hayes ended that, and while Alkins hated the feeling of that stinging loss, he says one thing good came of it.
"I knew we would win today. I hate losing, so after that loss I said to my guys that's it, that's our last loss, and I meant it," the sophomore star said.
With overall team performances like they had against St. Ray's on Monday, and finally getting the full team back, including Delarosa, on Tuesday, that just might come true, and Atson added that with a full roster ready to be together on the court, this team can be very special.
"The sky's the limit for us now. People just better watch out."