By Troy Mauriello
While Holy Cross had to deal with being denied a second straight trip to the semifinals, they got a glimpse of a bright future in the process.
A strong second-half comeback from a 13-point halftime deficit was not enough to push the Knights past Bishop Loughlin in the CHSAA Class AA Intersectional boys’ basketball quarterfinals Sunday at Fordham University. The Holy Cross rally ran out of gas in an eventual 78-62 defeat.
Despite the loss, the story of the night for Holy Cross was freshman sensation Hassan Diarra, who scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
“My teammates were finding me on the court,” Diarra said. “I had some good open shots, and I was focused.”
Diarra’s seven first-half points were not enough to keep Holy Cross on pace with Loughlin (20-7) throughout the first half. A 14-3 Lions run to open the second quarter extended their lead to 30-15, and they took a 32-19 advantage into halftime.
But fueled by 15 third-quarter points from Diarra, Holy Cross made a game of it early in the second half. The Knights pulled to within five at one point, as Diarra carried them with a trio of three-pointers in the period.
“We came together as a team,” he said. “In the first half we were being very selfish. In the second half we started looking for each other as a team, we started moving the ball a lot, and we got open shots.”
Holy Cross (11-17) had the lead down to just three, 50-47, early in the fourth quarter, but from there the Knights seemed to run out of gas. An 8-0 Loughlin run extended their lead back up to 11, and from there Holy Cross wouldn’t get back within nine.
The Knights were outscored 30-19 in the fourth quarter, although 17 of those 30 Loughlin points came from the free-throw line as Holy Cross elected to foul early to try and cut down the lead.
“They’re a physical, strong team,” said Holy Cross Coach Terry Tarpey said of Loughlin. “That’s not our strong point. And I think that caught up to us.”
Aside from Diarra, Jamel Horton was the only other Holy Cross player in double figures, with 12 points. Chaz Platt added nine, but the story going into the offseason will undoubtedly be the promising future of Diarra.
“He just impresses more and more and more,” said Tarpey. “When it was September, we started talking to coaches like ‘we think he’s ready, we think he’s ready,’ and we definitely made the right call by moving him up (to varsity).”
Tarpey’s praise for his young star didn’t stop there. “The future is very bright for him and he’s got a very good head on his shoulders,” he continued. “He knows what’s going to happen three seconds before the other guys, and his range on his jump shot has really come along.”
A modest Diarra kept his focus team-oriented when asked about his offseason plans to improve going into his sophomore year.
“I have to get stronger, as a team we all have to get stronger. We have to play smarter, cut down on the turnovers, and rebound more.”