By Joseph Staszewski
The business of winning a second straight PSAL city title is nearly complete for Benjamin Cardozo.
There were a few smiles and handshakes after the second-seeded Judges pulled away for a 59-48 victory over No. 6 Boys & Girls in the PSAL Class AA boys’ basketball semifinals at Lehman College Saturday. Even usually eccentric coach Ron Naclerio was subdued after the win and took notice of how his team acted.
“This is the fifth time we’ve been to the championship and this is the first time we won the semifinal game and there was no celebration,“ Naclerio said. “Last year we were jumping up and down.”
The Judges face No. 4 Wings at 1 p.m. Saturday at Madison Square Garden. It’s the first final without a Brooklyn school since Dozo beat Kennedy in 1999. Cardozo used a frantic late-game comeback to get the best of Wings in the final of the SNY Invitational in early February.
Winning another title has been the goal since Cardozo beat Thomas Jefferson for the crown last year. Judges star guard Rashond Salnave said there was some celebrating in the locker after beating the Kangaroos. Everyone enjoyed the victory, but no one has lost sight of what they set out to do when the year started.
“We all know what the goal was,” Salnave said.
The Judges (29-2) took control of a back-and-forth game early in the fourth quarter after a jumper by Jaquan Lightfoot pulled the Kangaroos within 42-40. Taraq Coburn sank a 3-pointer to start the Judges’ response, an 11-3 run that put them up 53-43 with 4:50 to go in the game. Coburn had another trey in the spurt and Aaron Walker tallied the other five points.
“My teammates were just finding me,” Coburn said. I knew I just had to knock it down.”
Coburn paced Cardozo with 20 points, including four three-pointers. Salnave dropped in 19 points and was the one passing the ball to Coburn. Elijah McNeely added nine points and guarded Boys & Girls star Gianna Ford (18 points) for most of the contest. Jamie Killings added 13 for the Kangaroos (19-9). Cardozo felt it silenced some critics by returning to the championship game.
“We are here to play,” McNeeley said. “We want to win the championship every year. We have the talent to win more than one.”
A victory at the Garden would hold plenty of significance for Cardozo.
It would erase any of the doubt those on the outside had about last year’s crown, where the Judges did not face the Wings or Lincoln in the post season. The title would be first time the school has gone back to back and the victory would tie Naclerio with former Campus Magnet coach Charles Granby for the most in PSAL history at 722.
There is plenty of business to still take care of.
“We still got one more game,” Salnave said. “It’s not over yet.”