By Joseph Staszewski
Benjamin Cardozo Coach Ron Naclerio doesn’t want his unbeaten team to stop enjoying wining even when the way they play doesn’t make it feel like they did.
“What I was trying to harp on was never mess with winning,” he said. “Don’t ever get tired of winning and don’t lie to yourself when we’re trying to correct mistakes when we are winning.”
The Judges boys’ basketball team didn’t play at their best in a frantic, hard-fought 38-31 victory against Iona Prep during the Big Apple Invitational at Baruch College Saturday night. There was plenty to correct — 24 percent shooting and 16 turnovers — but Cardozo did win enough even when it wasn’t at its best.
“We always find a way to win the game,” senior forward Francisco Williams said. “At the end of the day if we are playing bad, we have to pick each other up.”
He and frontcourt mate Carl Balthazar dominated the glass against an undersized Gaels team, playing without star Matt Ryan (hip). The 6-foot-7 Balthazar scored six points and grabbed 17 rebounds, tied for the fourth most ever at the event, to earn most valuable player honors. Williams had seven points and 12 boards and Rashond Salnave added eight points.
“We had to do whatever we had to do to get the ball back and not let them get shot,” Balthazar said.
The Judges’ best stretch came heading into halftime. They went into the break on a 6-0 run to take a 20-14 lead. Iona (9-6) got within 34-29 left in the game, but Williams, Salnave and Elijah McNeely combined to make five of six free throws to seal the win.
Cardozo’s length kept the Gaels on the perimeter, where they shot just four of 22 from three-point range. Isaiah Ice led Iona with 13 points. Poor shooting plagued both teams. Cardozo (16-0) missed put backs and connected on just one three-pointer.
“Every time you come to Baruch, the rim seems like the toughest shooting rims alive, like the metal has extra iron in it,” Naclerio said. “Unless you totally swish it, shots that you think are going in roll around the rim and out.”
It is performances like this one that has the longtime coach describing the season as a roller coaster despite the team’s record. Cardozo has made progress in wins over Construction and Brooklyn Collegiate and then struggled on other nights.
“It’s like we are rolling, we get a little higher, we come back, we get a little higher, we come back,” Naclerio said.
They never come completely down, still finding ways to come out on top.
“Let’s get out of here with the win,” Williams said. “That’s all that really matters.”