BRONX, NY - The City Legends Invitational closed out its two days of games with a 4 game slate on tap for Sunday at the famed Gauchos Gym.
Two of the four stood out as noteworthy, and they brought a huge crowd of college coaches to see some of the brightest stars NY has to offers. Here are recaps from two of the games of the weekend from the Bronx.
Cardozo Rules Thurmond Marshall Academy, 60-52
For a game in December, this game may have had more at stake than the typical non league game. Queens and Manhattan in the PSAL aren't exactly known as hotbeds for big time teams and games. The depth of talented teams just isn't like it is in Brooklyn, so when you get a game like this that can separate you for seeding purposes later in the season, it can be huge, something young Judges star Rashond Salnave acknowledged.
"We knew it we lost that it would affect out seeding later in the year so coach told to come out and play hard, so we knew what we had to do," Salnave said.
The coach he speaks of is the legendary Cardozo coach Ron Naclerio. He has heard all the chatter about his talented youngsters, and how they are the next big thing, especially Salnave, but he said leading into this game, that he humbled them a bit.
"These kids are in a school at Cardozo where the history is enormous, and I get under their skin a bit when I tell them you have nothing to do with the history, you are all still just a mystery," the coach said with a smile.
While it's still December, this was their chance to stop being a mystery, and start them on their way.
It started just as planned for Naclerio's group. Junior guard Elijah McNeely scored on a pull up in transition to get it started. Salnave then took over, scoring 7 early points to get the lead to 20-10 for the Judges, but Thurgood Marshall was not about to lay down and allow a blowout to happen.
While star junior wing Dimencio Vaughn was being doubled by smaller, athletic guards, other Panthers players were stepping up. Jhedeyah "Juice" Gibbs was smart and steady with the ball, scoring on a nice floater in the lane, and sophomore big man Bryan Assie became a stud in the paint in the 2nd quarter, scoring 6 straight points on tips and putbacks.
TMA took a lead at 26-23 in the closing seconds of the opening half, when Salnave knocked down his 4th three of the half for Cardozo to ultimately stem the tide, and help the Judges go into the break even with the Panthers at 26.
Panthers coach Abdu Torrence was pleased with the opening half, pleased with the fact that the tempo was seemingly in his squad's favor, understanding to win, the game would have to be played a pace they dictated.
"We knew they wanted to make it a track meet, so we wanted to make it a snail's pace. A low scoring half was in out favor," Torrence said about the first 16 minutes of play.
It was a tight game, and someone needed to step up and make big plays. For Cardozo you really didn't know who that was. While Salnave is highly thought of, he is still in his first year of varsity ball as a sophomore, so one of the bigger plays was made by McNeely, who scored while falling down going in the lane for an and 1. It gave the Judges a 5 point lead late in the 3rd, and while it didn't surprise Naclerio that he stepped up, in another way, it did.
"You expect your experienced players to step up, and Elijah is our most experienced player, even though he has no experience," Naclerio said of his 3 year varsity player because of his lack of playing time until this season.
Amir Tutt, another sophomore for Cardozo, also came up big early in the 4th, with a short fadeaway jumper in the lane, and a nice finish inside off a feed from McNeely. Salnave then stepped up again, proving to be an explosive offensive weapon, scoring attacking the basket over Assie, to give the Judges a 45-36 lead with just 4:32 to play in the game. Salnave took his game to another level late, something he feels is his duty for this team.
"I'm going to take initiative because that's my job, and I'm going to fulfill my job as the leader of this team," Salnave said.
Salnave, the leader, sure was coming through, and on defense, he and the Judges were doing exactly what their coach wanted them to do, limit Vaughn, and make other players beat them. Vaughn just wasn't able to get free, and while Gibbs was doing his part to help keep TMA in the game, it was proving to be too big an obstacle to overcome, and when Salnave was fouled on a 3 point attempt with the Panthers down just 6 with 1:50 to go, it was signal this was not their night, and even though Torrance disagreed with the foul call in that spot, he gave credit to the Judges young star.
"He kicked his out but the refs didn't see it. It's a savvy play. Ray is a really good player with a lot if savviness and he got the call in that spot," Torrence said.
It truly was a backbreaker, and TMA could get no closer. A layup at the buzzer for the Panthers ended the game, but Cardozo had won a proving ground game, taking it 60-53.
The young Salnave had a game high 26 points in the Cardozo win, with McNeely adding 15, and forward Francisco Williams adding 10.
Vaughn led Thurgood Marshall with 16, though that was well under his season average, while Gibbs added 15 in the defeat.
Torrance said that while it's a tough loss for his group, he knows that they will only get better as the season goes on.
"I think the most important thing is after today the guys understand that they belong on this level, and that just a lapse or slip here or there and you can lose by 7, but we will be ok," Torrence said about the performance.
As for Cardozo, Naclerio was pitching to them before the game of being underdogs, mainly because of the team's inexperience, and although there were a few things he didn't love about the game, he was happy with the ultimate result.
"A win is a win is a win, but these kids have never been through a game like this. They are very young and it was great to see them come through with flying colors."
Green Tech Outmuscles Scanlan, 65-62 OT
When you are up 9 with 3:30 to go in the 4th quarter, you are expected to win. That was what Scanlan was facing, but a team with a lot of youth on it, the Crusaders buckled, and the veteran leadership of Green Tech helped them rally to tie late, and the Eagles ultimately came down from Albany and grabbed the 3 point win.
Jonathan Nwankwo, Scanlan's 6'9" big man had a phenomenal game. He dominated in the paint, and showed off an array of skills in the paint that surely had to have the college coaches in attendance oohing and aahing, but when the game was on the line late, the Crusaders forced up shots, and stopped doing what got them the lead.
Up 55-46 with just over 3 minutes to go, all looked fine in Scanlan's world, but then Najee Ward hit a left wing three for Green Tech. A Scanlan turnover then led to a finish inside by Ramion Burt, and LIU-Brooklyn bound Jamil Hood Jr. then slashed and finished around traffic. A beautiful feed from Hood to TyQuavius McGill ended up tying it with 32 seconds left, and Green Tech had all the moment.
Scanlan stud point man George Pena committed a turnover stepping out of bounds on the baseline with 23 seconds to go, and the Eagles held for 1, but Hood missed a elbow jumper that could've won it, and free basketball ensued with the 2 teams locked up at 55.
Green Tech grabbed an early lead in OT, up by 4 with 31 seconds left, and while Scanlan had chances, they struggled in the closing stages. Down by 2 with 1 second left, Scanlan had one final chance. Jordan Riullano was fouled, giving the Crusaders a chance to tie and head into a 2nd OT session, but the pressure was high, and he missed the first FT. He seemed to want to miss the 2nd, but he made it to make it a 63-62 Eagles lead.
Hood was fouled immediately, and the referees put 0.6 seconds on the clock. Hood nailed a pair from the line and long heave by Scanlan fell well short, and Green Tech and proven their mental toughness by not quitting, and fighting back for the high fought OT win.
Hood Jr. had 20 points for Green Tech to lead the way, while Ward added 15 for the winners.
In defeat, it was Nwankwo who paced Scanlan with 22 points, while 6'7" senior wing man Tremaine Carter, a transfer from the closed down Blessed Sacrament, chipped in with 15.
It was a great win for Green Tech, especially coming off a tough loss on Saturday up in Albany to Section 9 power Kingston, and while the win was big, Eagles head coach Jamil Hood Sr. was just happy his team could come and get a win on such a big stage.
"This means so much. This is a legendary court. We loved NYC, and it's a treat and honor to just be invited to play here, and to get the win against a great Scanlan team makes it so much better," Hood Sr. said.
It meant so much, he is just itching to do it again.
"I want to come back because there is no doubt to me that the best basketball is played right here in New York City."