BRONX, NY - The CHSAA Archdiocesan sectional final between St. Raymond and Mt. St. Michael was a good one.
Whenever one team would land a blow, the other team was able to regroup and recover and deliver a blow themselves. The game was played at Mt. St. Michael, the home gym of the number 3 seed in the intersectional, but St. Raymond rallied behind their two star senior players and overcame whatever challenges were in front of them.
Daniel Dingle and Nkereuwem Okoro played a very good game and carried the Ravens in the second half. They were the main reasons that St. Raymond was able to withstand a tough Mt. St. Michael (20-7) team and come away with hard earned 60-58 victory and Archdiocesan championship.
Okoro led St. Ray's in scoring with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Head coach Oliver Antigua said that he thought Okoro was going to have 20 rebounds because he had 10 at halftime, but Dingle took over the rebounding role and grabbed 9. Dingle filled up the stat sheet too, scoring 17 points in addition to 5 assists.
St. Ray's came out on fire in the first quarter, opening a 10-2 lead from the start, including a dunk from Dingle. It looked like the Ravens were going to run Mt. Saint Michael out of the gym early. But in a quick flash, the Mountaineers were able to storm their way back and took a 13-10 lead on a trey from Andrew Utate (12 points). From that point on, you just knew it was anybody's game.
Still, St. Ray's was able to build a 23-23 lead by the end of the first half. The main reason they were able to do that was their dominance at the free throw line. Antigua said that was the plan from the very beginning.
"We got 6 fouls on their bigs I thought that we had to establish that presence, and then work inside out," Antigua said about the game plan.
The Ravens had a heck of a time trying to keep possession of the ball and constantly turned it over. That was the main reason Mt. Saint Michael was able to get back in the game early and make various runs throughout the game. But the fact that they were practically living on the line negated whatever advantage that the Mountaineers might have gained from the sloppy ball handling of St. Ray's.
Okoro scored inside and followed that with a basket after a fast break to put his team on top 39-30 with about 5 minutes left in the third quarter. Okoro's basket forced the Mountaineers to call a timeout. St. Ray's was gaining big time momentum, but the timeout from Mount helped squash that. They went on a 10-2 run to cut St. Ray's lead to 1, and that forced St. Ray's to stop play.
Mount's senior guard Malik Gill made a strong move and scored a lay-up with 6:15 left in the game to give his team a brief 48-47 lead. That was answered when Dingle found Okoro for a basket. Okoro followed that when guard Shane Rector (14 points) found him in transition. That gave St. Ray's a three point lead that they never relinquished.
Still, the game was far from over. St. Ray's had secured the rebound after a missed shot, holding on to a 58-56 lead with 39.9 seconds remaining when Rector rushed the possession and picked up a charge. That left the stage open for the 5-9 Gill, a really tough point guard with a knack for getting into the paint, to tie the game or give his team the lead late. However, Gill wasn't able to get a good look, which actually was the theme of the night.
St. Raymond (16-9) got the rebound and senior guard Larry Graves was fouled. Graves went to the line for a one and one, and calmly knocked down the front end while smiling. He did the same for the second free throw and the game was pretty much over.
Gill, who scored a team high 16 points, was guarded by the 6-5 Okoro most of the fourth quarter. Antigua said he just wanted to make it tough for Gill, and Okoro was long enough and quick enough to do the job. It worked early as Gill shot 1 for 10 in the first half. Dingle complimented Okoro's effort after the game when he was speaking to reporters.
"He did a great job. We went over this in practice. He was going to guard Gill when it's crunch time and he delivered today," Dingle said.
Okoro downplayed his big game, saying that he didn't do it alone.
I was just depending on everybody else. I know that when Daniel got the ball in the high post, he's looking for me on the baseline and I was just playing my role" Okoro said.
St. Raymond has been on a roll since playing and beating Lincoln on the road a couple of weeks ago. That's when it seemed to start coming together for St. Ray's. They knocked off the top seeded Cardinal Hayes 81-73 to get to the final in the first place.
Antigua is confident about his team in the upcoming playoffs.
"We're playing great and I think, going forward, I really like our chances in the intersectional," Antigua said.