By Marc Raimondi
Holy Cross senior Blaise Ffrench tossed the ball up, two-handed, toward the rim from the right wing. Out of nowhere, slashing in from the opposite corner came Kayvon Roberts with an emphatic slam dunk, the oop to Ffrench's alley.
St. Peter's had just cut its deficit to eight with 7:02 left in the game. But Ffrench's lob and Roberts' finish took all the momentum away from the Eagles. Holy Cross went on to win 64-50 in the CHSAA Class AA intersectional quarterfinals Friday night at Christ the King and St. Peter's never got within less than eight again.
“If we have to make a big play, an alley-oop is the play to do it,” Ffrench said.
Holy Cross will play Rice, which won the other quarterfinal Friday against Xaverian, in the CHSAA semifinals Wednesday at St. John's University.
Though star senior and recently named McDonald's All-American Sylven Landesberg had 39 points against St. Peter's, Ffrench was really the Knights' catalyst. He ran the point with precision, dishing out 12 assists. It was probably his best pure point-guard performance of the season.
“That was the X-factor of the game,” Landesberg said of Ffrench's passing.
And Landesberg was the benefactor more than anyone else. The 6-foot-7, Virginia-bound guard has become such a prolific scorer, who puts the ball in the basket with such relative ease, that unbelievable point outputs have become commonplace. It didn't hurt also that Ffrench got him the ball in terrific position almost every time.
Landesberg's game was so smooth and effortless that both he and his coach couldn't believe his point total.
“Sylven had 39?” Cross coach Paul Gilvary asked. “I would have guessed 20.”
“I thought I played like trash,” Landesberg added. “Are you sure that was me?”
There was no doubt. Landesberg and his teammates were solid on the defensive end, too, even though the Knights aren't really known as a hard-nosed defensive squad. They limited St. Peter's star O.D. Anosike to 13 points and only two in the fourth quarter.
“There's only good teams left,” Landesberg said. “We're trying to shut down the big scorers.”
Ryan Woods (14 points), the Eagles' Pace-bound senior guard, did get hot late in the game. His three-pointer to start the fourth quarter got St. Peter's within 50-42 before the alley-oop to Roberts (13 points). But Holy Cross never allowed its opponents to get over the hump.
Defense is something Gilvary stressed in practice this week. Everyone knows the Knights can score, but their performance on the other end has brought upon criticism. Ernest Freeman went a long way into disproving that with his performance guarding Anosike, who has drawn interest from St. John's, Villanova, Hofstra and Fordham.
“I think we've really improved defensively since the season has gone one,” Gilvary said.
It'll only get harder against Rice, which boasts a turnover-inducing 'D' and a three-point shooting offense. Holy Cross lost to the Raiders the only two times the teams played during the regular season. The Knights' starting five – all seniors – don't figure to let that effect them.
“This is crunch time,” Landesberg said. “We don't want to go home right now.”
Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at email@example.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.