By Zach Braziller
Before Jermaine Lawrence became a national prospect, when Cardozo’s junior varsity was making it to the city championship game two years ago, Kyle Credle was thought of just as highly. As a freshman, he averaged over 20 points per game, before limited playing time and a serious Achilles injury set him back last year.
Of that dynamic duo, he remained at Cardozo while Lawrence recently transferred to Pope John XXIII in Sparta, N.J., and on Saturday the 5-foot-10 guard showed some of the promise Credle displayed as an underclassman.
Credle scored seven of his 10 points in the final 2:07 of regulation, lifting No. 2 Cardozo to its third straight Queens basketball crown 69-58 over dogged Long Island City, the fifth seed and the only ‘A’ team to reach a borough championship game, at York College in Jamaica.
“It means a lot because it’s the first step [of the postseason],” he said. “Especially for me. I’ve never not won a Queens championship. I didn’t want this to be the first.”
Early in the year, Credle and Naclerio butted heads over playing time. The junior wanted to start; Naclerio felt he was better served coming off the bench. He’s adjusted and has become arguably the Judges’ top guard. At least he was this week, averaging 13 points in the three borough playoff victories.
“My job is to make it hard for him to take me out,” Credle said. “I value all the minutes I get. I know if I play well, I’ll be in the game at the end.”
Naclerio has had no reason to take him out of late. Credle is running the team with aplomb and making big shots.
“I believe he’s gonna be a scholarship player,” Naclerio said.
The Judges (19-6) had their way inside against the small Bulldogs. Forward Tajay Henry, who has elevated his play since Lawrence left, had 21 points and 10 rebounds and recently eligible swingman Rasheed Robinson came off the bench to post 13 points and eight rebounds.
Despite the size disadvantage and talent differential, LIC hung around. The two-time Queens A West champion seemed to be on the precipitous of getting blown out of the gym on several occasions, but always had an answer. The Bulldogs trailed by 32-16 in the second quarter and got within 34-26 by halftime. They fell behind 47-33 midway through the third quarter, only to draw within four on several occasions late in the fourth quarter. Sadji Camara and Arthur Santanna each scored 17 points for LIC.
“After being down by 16, for us to come back and play even most of the way, shows our kids’ heart,” LIC Coach Harley Watstein said. “This gets us ready for the ‘A’ playoffs. It was fun.”
At that point, Credle took over. He hit two free throws, sank a contested jumper and then drilled a three-pointer, extending Cardozo’s lead to 65-56 with 55.8 seconds remaining.
“That was the game,” Watstein said. “[He] doesn’t hit those shots, it goes down to the wire.”
The Judges’ celebration was somewhat subdued. They were expected to win Queens when LIC (23-3) upset No. 1 Bayside. It was nevertheless a joyous locker room afterward. From Lawrence’s abrupt departure to the 29-point loss at Bayside, there were doubts if Cardozo would have this moment.
“I’m really proud of the team. I’m glad these kids will have something to hang their hats on,” Naclerio said.