By Marc Raimondi
But instead of clinching the title against a team with less talent, York turned in one of its worst performances of the season. The top-seeded Cardinals turned the ball over 28 times, handing a 68-54 victory to first-time champion John Jay, the No. 6 seed, on Friday night at CCNY's Nat Holman Gymnasium. The Bloodhounds were the last CUNY team without a men's basketball tournament title.”Big-time players come out to play in big-time games,” St. John said. “My big-time players did not come to play in this big-time game.”That criticism did not include freshman forward Marcel Esonwune. The 6-foot-6 big man had 22 points, on 10-of-11 shooting, and 12 rebounds in only 25 minutes and he might have made an even bigger impact had he played more than six minutes in the first half. Esonwune picked up two quick fouls to start the game and St. John, knowing the Nigeria native is foul prone, sat him on the bench until after halftime.The game was tied at 47 after an Esonwune free throw with 11:12 left, but John Jay (13-15) went on a quick 6-0 run, started by Hakeem Kased's three-point play. York (21-7) never really recovered.”I knew we were gonna put together a run,” St. John said. “It never happened for us.”Kased went on to be a pest for the Cardinals the rest of the game. He had 10 of his 13 points in the second half, finished with eight rebounds and added a pretty assist to Miguel Garcia for an easy layup to give the Bloodhounds a 65-54 edge with 56.6 seconds left. Vaughn Mason had 14 points and Emilio Gomez chipped in 10 for John Jay.But it was less about what John Jay did and more about what York didn't. No one other than Esonwune scored in double figures. Senior Mike Salamanca, an All-CUNYAC first team member, and freshman Omari Phipps, the conference Rookie of the Year, were non-factors. Salamanca was 2-of-12 from the field and Phipps was 2-of-9 with five turnovers.Most of the Cardinals giveaways were unforced, too. They had no problem beating the John Jay press, but botched the easy passes.”If we're not gonna turn the ball over in the damn press,” an angry St. John said, “why the hell are you gonna turn it over?”Esonwune, who, along with Phipps, is a main cog in York's bright future, had an easy explanation: the Cardinals overlooked the underdog Bloodhounds.”It's gonna be a breeze,” he said they thought. “We took it for granted.”Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at email@example.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.