FLUSHING, NY - When you're new starting back court is accustomed to playing in the Class 'AA' division and plays with the core of your front court in the off season, why entertain speculation about your team's ability to hang in the 'AA's and find chemistry?
That's the way Cardinal Hayes' junior guard, Tyler Wilson, sees it.
"We've played with [the Cardinal Hayes players] and know them from the summer leagues," said Wilson, who transferred with back court mate Naasir Williams to the Bronx school from Rice HS when it closed. "We have team chemistry even though people probably didn't think we [would]."
Questions about the NYCHoops.net #6 ranked Cardinals' ability to gel early in the season and hang in the 'AA' division after moving up from the 'A' were answered in their first test on Friday night - they made the commute to Queens and took down the #8 ranked Holy Cross Knights, 56-44.
The Cardinals shifted between playing poised, lethargically, and with a sense of urgency, but they never appeared to be in any real danger after the second quarter (despite Holy Cross keeping the deficit in single digits for much of the game).
The Knights were able to keep pace early on, as the defensive hustle of Mairega Clarke (their lone player over 6'3") afforded them the spark to offset Hayes' press and trap defense and size advantage on the boards. Back to back rejections turned into back to back fast break buckets for the senior forward and gave Holy Cross their largest lead of the game, 14-9. A trey ball from Hayes' Fadil Yacoubou (8 points) closed the gap though, and by quarter's end the game was knotted at 14. Holy Cross would never lead again.
Hayes' defense and height advantage stifled the Knights' half court offense and stripped their opportunities for offensive boards, respectively. 6'8" senior forward, Amadou Sidibe, celebrated Thanksgiving a week late, feasting on the glass for seven first half rebounds (he had 13 for the game). Sidibe's front court mate, 6'7" Jalen Jenkins, compounded the issue of size and physicality for Holy Cross, and Hayes went into the locker room with a 28-21 halftime lead.
The Knights' woes continued in the second half, as point production was too scarce to make a real run. A valiant effort from 6'2" senior guard, Marquise Moore (who was purportedly playing with a broken toe) kept Holy Cross in striking distance, but when they found themselves in the double bonus early in the fourth quarter and Hayes momentarily went flat, they failed to capitalize. A cold shooting night from senior guard Anthony Liboria meant one less scoring option for Holy Cross, and when it was time to pull away, Wilson knew his leadership was in need, regardless of how new his Hayes uniform is.
"Coach [Joe Lods] tells me to be a leader and to make things happen," he said. "If I play hard and get stops, good things will happen."
For the Cardinals, they did. After dangling hope in front of the Knights' faces in the second half, Hayes finally snatched it away when Wilson led them on a 9-1 run that sealed the deal. Pressure defense paved the way for his fast break lay-up that gave Hayes a 45-35 lead with 4:40 left to play. The Knights had run out of responses.
"I thought we were the better team," stated Wilson, who scored five of his seven points during that final pull-away run in the fourth quarter. "We just had to prove it and play harder."
Welcome to the CHSAA 'AA,' where the act of proving never stops.
Sidibe and Jenkins scored 11 and 10 points, respectively, for Cardinal Hayes.
Holy Cross were led by Moore and senior guard Edward Roscigno's 10 points a piece. Clarke chipped in with 7 points.