By Anthony Bosco
Things could not have started on a worse note for the Archbishop Molloy Stanners in Friday night’s Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan Tournament championship game against Brooklyn’s Xaverian High School. Then again, things could not have ended better.
The Stanners (21-5) overcame an 11-0 deficit to start the game and, despite nearly blowing a 13-point third-quarter lead, upended the Clippers (17-9) for a 64-61 victory at St. Francis College before a crowd of 1,000.
“I knew we just needed to get that first basket,” said senior guard Kevin Hamilton. “I guess we were over-anxious. We were confident coming into the tournament, but now our confidence is through the roof. I think we’re as talented a team as any team out there and if we play together we should win the city title.”
Defense was the catalyst for Molloy in overcoming the team’s slow start. Sophomore Sundiata Gaines, a 6-foot, 185-pound guard, hit one-of-two from the free throw line to finally put Molloy on the board with 2:45 remaining in the quarter. After Shaun Wynn scored to make it 13-1 Xaverian, Molloy started its run.
Switching off a box-and-one zone focused on stopping Clippers’ big man Chris Taft, Molloy went to a trapping defense that enabled the team to score five straight baskets in transition to pull within two, 13-11. Shamar Green’s bucket in the final second pushed to the score to 15-11 after one.
“We got rhythm after a while,” said Stanners’ point guard Marlon Smith. “Kevin hit a couple of shots and Sundiata came into the game and he gave us a big lift. That’s what we needed. He’s going to be a very good player.”
Molloy continued to roll in the second quarter, tying the game at 15 when Gaines scored at 6:04 and taking the lead moments later when Hamilton drilled a three-pointer. Hamilton hit back-to-back threes to push the Molloy lead to seven, 24-17, and hit another with 2:16 left in the half to make the lead nine, 29-20.
Xaverian scored only its third field goal of the quarter with no time left on the clock when Ryan Kander hit a three-pointer from mid-court to pull the Clippers within 11, 35- 24.
One of the big reasons Molloy was able to roar past Xaverian was the absence of Taft, who sat most of the second quarter with two fouls.
“We were getting a little foul trouble,” said Xaverian head coach Jack Alesi. “We had to sit him a little bit. We obviously were going through a bad stretch then and I just thought he needed a little bit of a rest to get through the second half. I saw him picking up a cheap third. We just wanted to get it close at the half and make our run in the second half.”
A three by Smith and another by Hamilton gave Molloy a 13-point lead with 5:43 remaining, 41-28. But the Clippers finally did start to make their run and it was mostly thanks to the inside play of Taft.
Taft and Kyle Odom were the big cogs of the Clippers’ run, as Odom’s three-pointer with 4:26 remaining in the fourth gave Xaverian its first lead since the second quarter, 56-54. But that was all the Brooklyn team had left.
Molloy quickly responded with three straight baskets — two by Gaines — to reclaim the lead. A desperation three at the buzzer was the best shot Xaverian had at forcing overtime and it never had a chance.
“We played well and we all played together,” Smith said. “I think we played a terrific game overall.”
Smith, Gaines and Hamilton all finished with 17 points for Molloy, while Xaverian was led by Green’s 17 points and 16 by Taft.
With the win Molloy garnered a No. 1 seed for the citywide playoffs and was next slated to be in action Wednesday against St. Peter’s in the quarterfinals. Xaverian will take on St. Raymond’s in the quarterfinals Thursday at 6 p.m. at Iona College followed by Rice-Christ the King at 7:45 p.m.
Christ the King 67, Holy Cross 48. The Royals eliminated the Knights Sunday as Michael Claxton, the younger brother of former CK star and current Philadelphia 76er Craig “Speedy” Claxton, scored 16 points to lead his team to the quarterfinals. Japhet McNeil and Mitchell Beauford had 14 and 11 points, respectively, as CK improved to 15-12 and advanced to take on Rice. Miguel Gonzalez led Cross, which finished 10-16, with 18 points.
St. Raymond’s 69, St. Francis Prep 43. Bryan Geffen was the lone bright spot for the Terriers (8-18), as the sophomore guard scored a team-high 15 points. St. Ray’s plays Xaverian Thursday.
St. Peter’s 73, Monsignor McClancy 67 (OT). The season came to an end for the Crusaders Sunday, despite a 26-point effort by Anthony Mauceri, falling to the Eagles from Staten Island. Wesley Matthews added 14 points for McClancy, which drops to 10-16 on the year.
St. John’s Prep 64, LaSalle Academy 62 (OT). Desean Burke scored 27 points, including 16 in the fourth-quarter, to lead the Red Storm to an exciting quarterfinal win Saturday. Christian Giraldo and Ed Moore scored 14 and 13, respectively, for St. John’s Prep, which improved to 19-6 with the win.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.