By Marc Raimondi
Holy Cross may be playing nationally ranked Archbishop Mitty (Ca.) on national television in Springfield, Mass., on Monday night. But Friday, the Knights got all they could handle from CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens rival Archbishop Molloy.
If not for two botched Molloy offensive sets in the final seconds and a Sylven Landesberg three-point play with 20.9 seconds left, Holy Cross would have been traveling to New England after a league loss instead of a 55-53 win at a packed Jack Curran Gymnasium in Briarwood.
“The fans really get into it here,” said Landesberg, who finished with 18 points. “They're just crazy. This might be the craziest place to play in the league.”
Holy Cross (12-2, 4-1 CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens), which is ranked No. 20 in the country by USA Today, should know. The Knights were shut out in the fourth quarter in a loss at Molloy last season.
“Last year's game, we still remember it,” Landesberg said.
And they were determined not to let the same thing happen again. Molloy (0-5 in league play) led, 53-51, and had the ball with 1:15 left. The play was supposed to be a clear out for junior guard Russell Smith, but he called sophomore forward Ashton Pankey up for a screen. That's not what the Stanners bench wanted and they waved the 6-foot-8 big man back down low. As all this was happening, the shot clock was running down and Smith was forced to take an awkward, double-pump shot from 20 feet.
The long rebound bounced around and ended up in the hands of Landesberg, who took it coast to coast for a layup, plus a foul. His free throw made it 54-53.
“I was just thinking, 'I'm gonna finish this,'” the Virginia-bound senior said. “There was no doubt in my mind that I was gonna make that layup.”
On the next Molloy possession, senior Matt Grogan turned it over and Cross escaped with a victory in perhaps the Stanners' best league performance of the season.
“(Molloy) coach (Jack) Curran, there's nobody better than him,” Holy Cross coach Paul Gilvary said. “They're gonna get it straightened out.”
The biggest difference for the Stanners was the return of two starters – Grogan from an ankle injury and junior forward Jin Hong from a suspension. Grogan had eight points, including a runner in the lane to put Molloy up, 53-51. Hong's biggest contribution was on the defensive end. The 6-foot-6 swingman had four blocks.
“He's like everywhere, he does everything,” Landesberg said of Hong. “He's a big difference maker.”
Kayvon Roberts was one Holy Cross' difference makers. Defensively, he held Smith, one of the top scorers in the league, to 16 points. Roberts, a senior, also forced Smith into the bad shot on the most critical play of the game and had 11 points. Pankey had 12 points for Molloy.
“What will go unnoticed tonight is how well [Roberts] guarded Russell Smith,” Gilvary said.
What won't go unnoticed is how tough Molloy played Holy Cross. It always seems to be the case when the two rivals get together.
“I don't know what it is,” Landesberg said, shaking his head. “It's something.”
Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.