BRONX, NY - On Friday, NYCHoops.net #4 ranked (Westchester/Upstate) Archbishop Stepinac Crusaders (0-1) were welcomed to their first Class AA game on Friday against #3 ranked (NYC) St. Raymond Ravens (3-0).
The upgraded defending CHSAA Class A intersectional champion traveled to the Raven's gym where Nkereuwem Okoro and his teammates presented them with a 62-56 loss to take back to White Plains.
Okoro, who led the Ravens with 16 points, took it open himself to not only lead his team but also make a statement. "We wanted to show them, welcome to the double A," he said.
St. Raymond opened up the game with and 8-2 spurt but their starting point guard Shane Rector (2 points) re-injured his ankle in the first quarter and was out for the entire game.
Ravens head coach Oliver Antigua said that they are in a wait and see mode but was optimistic regarding his return. "We have a few days off before we play," he said. "He'll be fine."
"I liked our back-up point guard today was Akil [Andrews], said Coach Antigua. "He got thrusted into the starting job and he did a nice job settling us down."
With Rector out, Stepinac built some momentum as Josh James (16 points) began to find his range and cut Rays lead to 2 point with 2 minutes left in the first quarter. Points in the paint and from the line by Daniel Dingle (12 points) helped re-extend St. Ray's lead back to seven late, but a James buzzer beater closed the gap to start the second quarter.
Down 17-12, the Crusaders received a spark from senior Quarrey Greenaway (7 points) on the defensive end as Tyler Iacoune (10 points) scored with an aggressive move to the basket. James scorched the Ravens with 10 first half points from the perimeter and 2:20 left in the half, James Decker (6 points) tied the game at 22 apiece.
Okoro quickly regained the lead for the Ravens and with help from Larry Graves (14 points) would close out the half with an 8-0 run to lead 30-22.
In the third quarter, Okoro not only stepped it up offensively, he took personal responsibility for shutting down Stepinac main offensive weapon. Remaining stuck to James like Velcro, he was held to 2 points in the quarter. "He was doing a real good job against us. Coach put me on that mission so it wasn't just an offensive game for me," said Okoro. "I felt like I had to get up on the defensive end and lock him up."
Lefty, Malik Oness (7 points) would finally end Stepinac's scoring drought but Graves, another lefty, scored off a curl to extend the Ravens lead to 12 points. The foul not only produced an and-1 opportunity but it saddled forward Deveino McRae (7 points), the Crusaders best interior presence with his fourth foul.
Stepinac showed resiliency in their first Class AA game and got the deficit down to 5 points to start the fourth but defensive lapses would soon leave them in an 11 point hole with 5:36 left in regulation.
In the final quarter, Iacoune would come up big early with clutch buckets to cut pull the Crusaders to within 7 points but would foul out shortly thereafter.
The Ravens would relax their defensive pressure on James who promptly struck oil from the arc. Decker also added a tough trey down the stretch but the Crusaders could not make stops.