By Troy Maurello
If Christ the King coach Joe Arbitello had any doubts about the resiliency of his boys’ basketball squad going into the postseason, they were quelled on Valentine’s Day.
A lackluster defensive first half coupled with some outrageously hot shooting from Bishop Loughlin put Christ the King in a 17-point hole on the road midway through the second quarter.
But an experienced Royals roster that features nine seniors wasn’t about to lie down and accept defeat. CK clawed its way out of that hole as the game went on, and the Royals eventually pulled out a dramatic 72-69 win over host Loughlin to claim second place in the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens division.
“Every one of these guys have been through this,” Arbitello said. “We’re never going to feel like we’re really out of it completely, and it showed. We kept our composure and we played.”
Robert Morris-bound center David Cole was instrumental in the comeback for CK. He scored 10 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter.
“No matter if we’re down 30, we’re going to stay working, we’re going to stay positive,” he said.
Senior guard Jared Rivers added 13 points, including a clutch jumper with 1:20 remaining to give the Royals a 68-66 lead. Although Loughlin (15-7, 11-4) would tie the score with 1:03 remaining, a basket from Cole with 45 seconds left to play gave Christ the King a 70-68 lead that it would not relinquish.
The Royals (16-9, 12-3) forced a turnover as they hung on to a 71-69 lead with 17 seconds remaining, and after Jose Alvarado split a pair of free throws with 12.6 seconds left to play, it was time for one more defensive stop.
Loughlin would get two looks in the closing seconds, one coming from sophomore Markquis Nowell and another from junior Keith Williams at the buzzer. Both of them would rim out, however, giving Christ the King the dramatic road win.
“I should have probably called timeout and said something to them,” said Loughlin coach Ed Gonzalez about his team’s final possession.
It was truly a team effort for the Royals, as four players scored in double figures on the afternoon. Alvarado and senior guard Tracy Cleckly each added 10.
For Loughlin, an extremely strong first-half performance wasn’t enough to earn a victory. Nowell scored 19 of his 28 points in the first quarter, as he hit five three-pointers in the opening half.
Nowell’s shooting left the Royals trailing 40-23 midway through the second quarter, before closing the first half on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to just nine at halftime and pull themselves back into the game.
That run would continue as the second half got going, and CK would suddenly find itself trailing by just three, 54-51, heading into the fourth.
Christ the King took its first lead since the opening minutes on a 3-pointer by Rivers to grab a 57-55 lead with a little more than six minutes left.
The win is Christ the King’s sixth in its last eight games, with the two defeats coming by a combined six points. The three-time defending Catholic city champion Royals have some momentum heading into the playoffs.
“We haven’t really had that ‘Christ the King’ in us,” Arbitello said. “Just to keep our minds collected, it’s very good that it happened at this point.”