By Five Boro Sports
Sean Johnson found himself in no man’s land — well beyond the three-point arc on the right wing, the clock about to hit all zeros. He had nowhere to go, no one to pass it to.
So the senior guard took a step back, creating space between himself and the defender, and let go a high-arcing shot.
By the time it dropped through the net, eliciting a throaty roar from the Christ the King crowd and sending the Royals bench to their feet like they were shot out of a rocket launcher, Johnson was on his backside, partly from contact and also because he faded away, adding even more of a degree of difficulty to an already improbable attempt.
“It was a shot,” CK Coach Joe Arbitello said, grinning, “he’s only allowed to take at the end of a quarter.”
It was also a shot that turned the game in the Royals’ favor, cutting a six-point deficit to three. It also further ignited a game-changing 24-2 run that produced a 64-57 victory for the Royals over rival Bishop Loughlin at home Friday evening in a CHSAA Class AA game.
“When I hit that shot I knew we were going to win,” Johnson said. “It was over after that.”
Johnson scored 14 of his game-high 29 points in the spurt, including a pair of three-pointers and the go-ahead layup early in the fourth quarter. Marion Smith also had four points in the run and finished with 14.
But, Arbitello said, it was his team’s play at the other end of the floor that made the unexpected turnaround possible.
For the first 22 minutes of the game, CK (17-2, 7-1 CHSAA ‘AA’) played what the coach called its worst half of basketball, particularly on the defensive end. They were lethargic and unenergetic, allowing open shots and offensive rebounds by the bushel. The Royals made Loughlin’s guards, the team’s weakness, look like stars.
“We were at the breaking point,” he said.
He didn’t do much yelling at halftime. There wasn’t any screaming when the Royals’ deficit ballooned to 11, 44-33, with 2:47 remaining in the third quarter.
Arbitello calmly told his players what needed to be done. Of course, Arbitello made a change to enliven the Royals, going to a 2-2-1 full court press to create enthusiasm and energy.
Loughlin (10-7, 4-4 CHSAA ‘AA’), which has lost four straight, including three in the league, started turning the ball over and forcing shots from the perimeter, almost to the point where the Lions forgot about star power forward Jayvaughn Pinkston, who torched the Royals for 39 points in the first meeting. It played right into the Middle Village school’s hands, even if Antoine Brown (12 points) and Anthony Givens (eight points) helped build the lead from the perimeter.
“I knew they weren’t going to keep hitting those shots,” Johnson said.
Slowly, CK chipped away, first with a few free throws, then a few long jumpshots, followed by one basket after another in transition, running on every turnover or missed shot.
“Extending the defense helped,” Arbitello said. “That’s what really raised our intensity.”
CK’s second win over Loughlin in one week didn’t follow the previous formula. For one, Pinkston was made into a mere mortal, scoring just 16 points after the opening quarter barrage of 10, which included two three-pointers. The 6-foot-6 man-child was surprisingly quiet after the early onslaught. He was slowed by three different defenders — centers Roland Brown, in his second game back from injury, and Dominykas Milka and long-armed forward Maurice Barrow.
“We made him work harder,” the 6-foot-8 Brown said. “By the second quarter, he was exhausted.”
Pinkston said he merely caught fire early and had trouble getting the ball in the post thereafter. Instead, he was often handling the ball by the three-point line, looking to create opportunities for himself. Of course, finishing with 26 points is hard to be construed as a bad effort, although the junior disagreed.
“I got to step up more,” he said. “Point blank.”
Loughlin Coach Rudy King was more upset with his team’s defense — or lack thereof — on Johnson, the talented shooting guard. He torched the Lions for 24 points last week and again buried them. Too often defenders strayed from Johnson, double-teaming unaccomplished Royals in the paint or helping on inconsistent shooting point guard Corey Edwards (seven points) on pick-and-rolls at the top of the key.
“We fell apart on our assignments,” King lamented. “We had this game in control and we just didn’t finish.”