By Patrick McCormack
Benjamin Cardozo took its Queens championship game loss to Construction to heart, and used the pain to earn a chance to play for a bigger crown.
The third-seeded Judges capitalized on a big second half to blow past No. 10 Brooklyn Collegiate 73-49 in the PSAL Class AA boys’ basketball semifinals Wednesday night at Long Island University.
Cardozo punched its ticket to the final for the first time since 2010. It faces No. 4 Jefferson, which upset top-seed Lincoln, at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Barclays Center.
Judges Coach Ron Naclerio said the borough championship loss fueled his team in the city playoffs.
“If that didn’t happen, I don’t think we would be here right now,” he said. “We managed to get the kids’ focus back.”
“When you win, the kids do not want to hear the negative lessons, but when you lose, the negative lessons come out, especially if you say, ‘Hey, if you do not correct [the mistakes], they are going to happen again,’” Naclerio said.
Another loss would have meant an early end to Cardozo’s season. Senior Francisco Williams, who had 16 points, didn’t want his career to end at LIU. The team played at its best when it outscored Brooklyn Collegiate 46-24 in the second half. Craig McKenize led Brooklyn Collegiate with 10 points and Adrian Williams had eight.
“I am a senior, I didn’t want to give up my jersey,” he said. “We just relaxed, slowed everything down and took everything easy.”
The Judges (27-4) used a pair of rallies in the first half, a 12-4 to start and 9-3 run right before the half to take a 27-25 lead into the locker room.
The Lions did a good job shutting down Cardozo sophomore standout Rashond Salnave, who finished with just nine points. The play from big men like Williams and Carl Balthazar, who had 16 points, gave the Judges the edge on the glass and down low.
Naclerio said his entire team has been contributing to its success, so he was confident when his best player had trouble getting a rhythm going.
“That’s why they call it a team,” he said. “Without Ray [Salnave], we wouldn’t have been close to being here. But if you take any of the kids off of our main six or seven, we wouldn’t be here.”
Naclerio said he is going to enjoy getting back to the title game. His only crown was in 1999. Naclerio hopes he does not feel the pain of defeat like he did in 2010, a loss that almost made him walk away from the game he loved.
“The pain of losing has gotten to be so much after the last couple of years I thought about almost stepping away,” Naclerio said. “I love it so much, I love the game, I love the kids, I love the school, but I hate that pain. Will that pain come back? It might come back Saturday, but I am going to enjoy this.”