By Stephen Zitolo
Benjamin Cardozo is still undefeated.
The Judges used a big second quarter to beat rival and host Construction 76-62 in a battle of unbeaten teams Dec. 17. The Judges sit alone atop the PSAL Queens AA standings, but even so, their battles with Construction are far from over. The Red Hawks have beaten them in the last two Queens borough finals.
“There’s a rivalry here for sure,” Cardozo senior guard Tareq Coburn said. “They beat us in the Queens championship two years in a row, so now we have to go back at them and take our title back.”
The difference in the game was the second quarter as Cardozo jumped all over Construction. The Judges (8-0) dominated the quarter, outscoring the Red Hawks 26-9 to leap out to a 42-26 lead that held up the rest of the way.
During the run, three Cardozo players scored six or more points. Monmouth-bound senior Rashond Salnave tallied seven and seniors Amir Tutt and Amorri Walters each scored six. Aaron Walker paced Cardozo with 23 points and Coburn had 18. The Judges were on top of their game.
“The difference is when we are playing our A-game there are only a handful of teams that can handle us,” Cardozo coach Ron Naclerio said. “If we play our A-game, we are a very good team. In that quarter they [Construction] caught it and that’s really tough.”
The second quarter was the only one that Cardozo dominated. The rest of the contest was a back-and-forth affair with Construction having the upper hand more often.
Cardozo jumped out to an early 13-6 lead in the first quarter, but Construction (7-1) didn’t back down, playing with the type of physicality that Coach Cory Semper preaches. The Red Hawks were able to string together a 10-4 run and end the quarter up 17-16. The lead was short-lived, however.
“It’s important every game for us to play physical,” Semper said. “We have to play physical if we want to get the end goal like everyone else.”
Coming out of the first half, Construction was down by 16 points and would have to put together an impressive run to get back into the game. The Red Hawks pulled as close as 56-42 in the third, when a fourth foul on Salnave sent him to the bench and gave Construction the opening it needed.
In the fourth, it turned on the pressure and forced Cardozo turnovers. Red Hawks senior guard Wesley Nelson scored 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter to help his team cut the Judges’ lead to 69-62 with 45 seconds remaining. But with Construction forced to foul, Cardozo put the game away at the charity stripe. The early-season loss isn’t all that big of a deal for Construction, however, thanks to its past history.
“I don’t really use this game as a measuring stick,” Semper said. “We have to go into Saturday and play Saturday and go from there. We’re only eight games into the season. If anyone is worried about a game now, they’re not worried about the long process.”