By Marc Raimondi
Sure, the match-up between the Flushing and John Bowne boys' basketball teams in Bowne's second annual Queens JAM Christmas Classic was non-league. But the battle between the rivals meant so much more than moving up a spot in the standings. The Red Devils eliminated the Wildcats from a playoff spot last season and the two schools are separated by only two miles, which meant Bruce and his teammates were playing for neighborhood bragging rights.”This game basically means the most to us,” said Bruce, John Bowne's senior star. “We see them all the time. We see them on the bus, they talk trash, we talk trash.”Bruce certainly backed up any trash-talking he might have done on the Q44 with a 36-point, 11-assist performance to lead Bowne over Flushing, 85-74, Saturday afternoon.The 6-foot-1, 170-pound guard, who has gotten looks from Fairleigh Dickinson and Division II Adelphi, put on a show from the very start. In the first quarter, he had 19 of the Wildcats' 22 points as Bowne got off to a 22-16 lead going into the second.Flushing stayed close until halftime, but Bowne really pulled away in the third quarter. A 17-4 run, culminating in a Kevin Samuel (17 points) three-pointer, gave the Wildcats a 61-41 lead with 2:26 left. Bruce, who also hit six three-pointers in the game, sat out the entire fourth quarter before being given the trophy that goes to the Christmas Classic MVP.”It's not really necessary to rein him in at all,” Bowne coach John Tsapelas said of Bruce. “As great a player as he is, if you watch, he's always looking to get everyone else involved. He's not the type of player that's gonna just grab the ball and either take it to the basket or look for his shot.”It wasn't just Bruce's scoring that knocked out Flushing. The Red Devils were obviously keying on Bruce as Bowne's best player, but he seamlessly found fellow guards Samuel and Maurice Phillip (15 points) when he didn't have his own shot.”[Bruce is] a transition shooter, which you don't see too often nowadays,” said Bowne assistant coach Roberto Diaz, who also coaches Bruce with his NYC Finest AAU team. Darin Marshall led the Red Devils with 18 points and Michael DeLeon and Arthur Hopkins chipped in 15 and 13, respectively, in the losing effort. Flushing and John Bowne were both classified as 'A' teams for the past few years, until realignment pushed the Red Devils into the new Queens AA division. But the Wildcats have played very much like an 'AA' team this season.”We haven't beaten them since I've been here,” Bruce said. “We just really wanted to get this win.”Reach reporter Marc Raimondi by e-mail at email@example.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.