By Joseph Staszewski
The difference between Construction’s two lopsided basketball losses to Benjamin Cardozo and its upset win in the PSAL Queens borough final has little to do with adjustments on the court.
Instead, the Red Hawks credited the win to a change in their game day diets to include Skittles.
“Whenever you want them, you get them out of the bag,” first-year Construction Coach Cory Semper said. “We give them out in the locker room at halftime. They are in the bag always. You can just dig in.”
The Red Hawks dug in deep in the second half with the candy’s help. They used a strong third quarter to erase a 10-point halftime deficit and overtook the Judges 65-62 in the championship game at CCNY Sunday afternoon. Semper became the first coach to win borough crowns at two different schools and did so in consecutive years after beating Cardozo with Bayside last season.
It was Construction’s first title, and it came after a 9-7 season in the Class A league last year. Cardozo beat the Red Hawks by an average of 20 points in the two regular season meetings, but this time they had a secret weapon.
Semper’s older brother Sean, an assistant coach, started bringing Skittles to Construction’s first borough playoff game against Francis Lewis and hasn’t stopped since. Eating them during games is something made famous by running back Marshawn Lynch, of the Super Bowl XLVIII champion Seattle Seahawks.
“The Seattle Seahawks do it, so why can’t we?” Semper asked.
Construction got big results from its two stars. Christ the King transfer Justin Wright-Forman scored 14 of his 22 points in the third quarter, and Marlon Alcindor, who transferred in from St. John’s Prep, netted a game-high 25 points, including the three of four free throws in the final 31 seconds. Alcindor was intentionally fouled by Cardozo’s Carl Balthzar, who had a momentary lapse, with 31.8 seconds left, and the score tied 62-62.
“I was like, ‘Why are they fouling me with 30 seconds left?” Alcindor said. “I just took full advantage of the opportunity.”
The Judges (24-2) left the door open for Construction by taking just a 36-26 lead in the half after dominating play and the backboards. Super sophomore guard Rashond Salnave scored 19 of his 30 points before the break, but Cardozo didn’t have another player in double figures. Francisco Williams had nine points.
“Some of the kids who want a bigger piece of the [scoring] pie got a chance for the bigger pie today, and found out that one slice is good. Two or three slices they may not be able to handle,” Naclerio said.
Construction quickly established things would be different in the third quarter. The Red Hawks opened the frame on a 7-0 run. An Alcindor three-pointer put Construction down by just one heading into the fourth. A Jordan Wright layup on the opening play of the final frame gave the Red Hawks their first lead at 51-50.
“Every time we came out in the third quarter against Cardozo, we kept turning the ball over,” Wright-Forman said of past games. “We told ourselves we are not going to let that happen.”
Naclerio thought his team beat itself because of immature and mental mistakes in the second half. They also got away from their defensive strategies. The defeat will likely cost Cardozo a potential No. 2 seed in the upcoming city playoffs.
Naclerio doesn’t believe the loss takes away from the Judges’ regular season. The longtime coach said his team is still the best in Queens, but Construction was better Sunday.
But this loss and the 57-54 defeat to Bayside in the final season are going to stick with him.
“There is winning and there is misery,” Naclerio said. “For me it’s misery.”
Semper took issue with Naclerio, saying early in the year that Cardozo is the “king of Queens” and the rest of the teams are second best. In Semper’s mind, the Judges haven’t held that crown recently.
“I guess he is the queen the last two years,” Semper said.