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With NYC title at stake, Christ the King finally slips

When senior forward Ihsaan Davis hit a three-pointer with 2:42 left at Fordham University, it would have been entirely plausible to think that Christ the King was the team in the lead in the city championship game on Sunday.

The Christ the King crowd was beside itself, roaring as Rice head coach Maurice Hicks called timeout and let everyone appreciate the “56-55” scoreboard for a few seconds longer.

Christ the King was down by one but feeling like New York City intersectional champions in the making. Against Rice, the only other team that could have laid claim to the summit of Catholic boys’ basketball, the Royals were staging an epic comeback in the fourth quarter, just as they had in the second, when Rice looked as if it might pull away for good. A 50-37 deficit had started the fourth quarter.

“At that point we had cut it to one, and I thought we were going to win the game,” senior guard Sean Johnson admitted.

“When Ihsaan hit that three, I thought we were going to win,” sophomore guard Corey Edwards concurred.

However, the Royals never took the lead. Rice’s Scott Arias, a junior guard, responded to Davis with a three-pointer of his own. Even after Edwards kept the pressure on with yet another bucket from long-range, Rice senior forward Duyrand Scott came right back with a field goal. Then Davis and CK junior forward Maurice Barrow started missing treys, and, fouled by Johnson with 41.4 left, Scott hit his free throws on the way to a 67-58 victory.

The Royals’ stunning comeback had fallen just short. And there, Christ the King’s season had ended.

“I thought we played as hard as you can play, but their experience got to us in the first half of the game,” CK head coach Joe Arbitello said. “I thought that was the difference in the game. They have been here before. … Today the better team won.”

“We would throw a punch, and they would throw a punch, but after a while we gave them all we had and it wasn’t enough,” Edwards said.

If Arbitello and Edwards were deflated after letting the taller, better-balanced Raiders just slip away, Johnson was outright angry. The Royals star’s 15 points made some impact on the contest, but felt more strongly were his eight consecutive missed three-pointers and his relative absence during the dramatic fourth-quarter rally.

“I was forcing everything a little too much,” Johnson said. “I thought I could calm down sometimes, but when everything went wrong I got mad and I didn’t really keep my head.”

The bumps and bruises of Johnson’s afternoon certainly didn’t help matters. In one instance, he was flattened in a collision with the chest of 6’7” Rice junior forward Shane Southwell; in another, he came off the floor clutching his entire head and then his jaw.

“I really feel for Sean, because he worked hard this season. He really became a leader,” Edwards said.

Johnson’s role was especially important this season considering the head coaching transition that CK weathered earlier this year, when Arbitello replaced legendary head coach Bob Oliva, who was suffering from a heart ailment.

When Johnson faltered on March 15, however, Davis was there to help shoulder the burden. The 6’2” role player scored 16 and seemed as if he would never miss a timely three-pointer, almost single-handedly saving the Royals from long-range when they went down by 11 in the second quarter. (Again, they fell one point short of tying the score.) Edwards, too, had an easy time finding space during the fourth-quarter rally, even though his three early fouls nearly stopped him from being part of it.

“This was the best game that I’ve ever seen him play,” Johnson said of Davis. “He should have been on the court more often.”

Christ the King’s Arbitello Experiment, then, comes to a sad conclusion but leaves memories of an exciting season in which the Royals established themselves as the best of Brooklyn and Queens and nearly took back the city intersectional title for the first time since 2007.

“I have a positive feeling no matter what,” Johnson said. “We had a good season. At the beginning of the season, nobody thought we would get to the city championship. … I still feel like a champion.”

The CK boys went a little further in 2008-09 than their Lady Royal counterparts, victims of a minor but history making upset on March 13. St. Michael’s Academy, of Manhattan, took down CK in the CHSAA Class ‘AA’ state tournament quarterfinals, 63-54, marking the first defeat of the Middle Village squad in St. Michael’s history.

Rice, meanwhile, will advance to the state level after winning its seventh city title since 1994. Scott, the tournament MVP and one-man wrecking crew who scored 27 points on Sunday, will buoy the Raiders’ hopes upstate.

And Arbitello, despite a few tears, will remember Sunday’s contest with pride.

“We were down 13 and we came roaring back,” he said. “That’s not the mark of a demoralized team.”

1909:

Senior guard Sean Johnson leaps for a pass during Christ the King’s loss to Rice in the New York intersectional championship game on March 15. Johnson scored 15 points but was not as effective as hoped in the Royals’ 67-58 defeat.

1389:

Senior guard Sean Johnson leaps toward the basket during Christ the King’s loss to Rice in the New York intersectional championship game on March 15. Johnson scored 15 points but was not as effective as hoped in the Royals’ 67-58 defeat.

1862:

Senior guard Marion Smith attempts a layup during Christ the King’s loss to Rice in the New York intersectional championship game on March 15.

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