By Brandon Mauk
After Rashond Salnave made the game’s biggest defensive play, he and his teammates on the Benjamin Cardozo basketball squad knew Christ the King expected him to take the final shot. Instead, Judges coach Ron Naclerio drew up a play, with one second left in a tie game, that banked on Aaron Walker’s athleticism.
“They’re not jumping until the offense jumps, and if Aaron jumps, they get exposed,” Naclerio said.
Salnave threw an in-bounds pass from the baseline up high to Walker. He tipped it in as time expired to give the Judges a thrilling 67-65 victory over visiting Christ the King in front of a packed gym in Oakland Gardens Jan. 22
“The shortest guy was guarding me, and I’m very athletic,” Walker said. “[Coach] told me to put it up there and for me to get it.”
Before his part in the winning basket, Salnave made a game-saving play on the other end of the court, a steal on the fast break in the final seconds.
He tried to bring the ball down to the other end of the court, but it slipped out of his hands. It then went off a Christ the King player out of bounds, however, which kept it in Cardozo’s possession.
“The last couple of minutes we fought our hardest, we played together,” Salnave said. “We grinded it out.”
It was a back-and-forth affair for much of the game. After falling behind by 12 early in the second quarter, Cardozo surged to tie the score at 31-31 at the half, thanks to the efforts of Walker (19 points) and Salnave (24 points). The Judges then built a double-digit lead of their own in the third quarter.
Christ the King rallied back in the same fashion in the fourth quarter, and the final period went back and forth with seven lead changes. Jose Alvarado and Jarred Rivers scored 12 and 22 respectively to lead the Royals back into it.
While both teams were firing on all cylinders Friday, it was Salnave and Walker who made the big plays at the end.
“When everybody’s hitting our shots, we’re hard to beat.” Walker said. “We try to come out every day playing hard, but this game meant a lot to us.”
The win was a huge boost for Cardozo after its first loss of the season, a one-point defeat to Queens HS of Teaching last Tuesday, when they were playing without star Tareq Coburn (shoulder). Coburn returned to score seven points against CK.
The two top programs in Queens could meet again in the SNY Invitational at City College, as long as they both win, or both lose, their semifinal games.
“I’d like to see Christ the King again,” Naclerio said. “I think it’s great for New York City basketball.”