By Joseph Staszewski
Benjamin Cardozo knew its first-quarter effort could not continue if it planned on making the case as the best public school team in Queens and the top seed in the citywide playoffs. The Judges trailed rival Construction by 12 points in the opening minute of the second quarter.
“We were really sluggish,” junior guard Aaron Walker. “We weren’t playing our game. We knew if we kept playing like that were going to lose. We just decided to pick it up.”
The Judges’ defensive intensity increased and so did their offense output. They closed the second quarter on a 22-5 run and never trailed again.
Construction got as close as three points in the fourth quarter, but defending city champion Cardozo pulled away for a 72-60 road win in PSAL Queens AA boys’ basketball Feb. 5. The victory clinches the division title and top seed in next week’s borough championships for Cardozo.
“It starts off with our defense,” star guard Rashond Salnave said. “Everybody looks at us as just scorers. When we really play defense, we are just whole different team.”
Walker paced Cardozo with a game-high 28 points, four assists and was the linchpin for the Judges’ defensive effort. He scored nine of Dozo’s 22 points during the second quarter run. The Judges also created fast break points off Construction misses during the spurt.
“Walking into the half, I felt a lot better after what happened,” Judges coach Ron Naclerio said. “There was one point I told the kids when we were down, ‘Let’s just cut it to four or five at the half.’ We are a good team and I think the pride factor [kicked in].”
Salnave tallied 18 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Elijah McNeely added 12 points and defended Construction star Justin Wright-Forman.
Cardozo (21-1) led 35-30 at the half and pushed the lead to 53-42 with 1:34 to go in the third quarter. Construction (20-4) came charging back. The Red Hawks, who shot 14 of 26 from the free throw line for the game, pulled within 57-54 on a Wright–Foreman free throw with 6:05 remaining it the contest.
Construction had two good looks to get closer that did not go down following a Cardozo turnover. The Judge then put the game away with an 11-0 run that included a key three-point play by reserve guard Amorri Walters.
Red Hawks coach Cory Semper said it was his team’s own lack of urgency that put them in a position to have to rally back. Wright-Foreman scored 16 points and Kyle Allman added 15.
“We stopped playing hard,” he said of the poor second quarter. “It’s simple. We stopped playing hard. We stopped boxing out.”
Construction now moves its sights to defending its PSAL Queen title. It beat the Judges in last year’s final after falling in both regular season meetings. The memory of that defeat and being overconfident kept Cardozo from being full satisfied with this win.
“It means a lot,” Salnave said. “But if we see them again we still have one more game to win.”