By Laura Amato
John Tsapelas looked up at the scoreboard and couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing.
The John Bowne boys’ basketball coach was a bit stunned by his squad’s performance Tuesday night, cruising to a 99-79 victory over Cardozo. He was also incredibly proud.
It was a statement victory for the Wildcats, a team that moved up to ‘AA’ this season and one that kept ‘Dozo coach Ron Naclerio away from history. The longtime Judges leader came into the PSAL matchup tied with Ed Petrie for the most public-school wins in New York state.
“I really didn’t have words. I kept looking at the scoreboard and I wasn’t sure that I was looking at it right,” Tsapelas said. “Then towards the middle of the third quarter, I’m just looking at the seconds tick down. No fouls, let’s not stop this clock, just keep it moving.”
The Wildcats were well aware of Naclerio’s possible run at history and the squad knew it was an underdog coming into the matchup. That, of course, only fueled the team’s collective fire.
“We knew that SNY and all of NYCH was coming, so we had to put on a show,” said senior Christian Hinckson, who finished with 21 points. “You can’t come in our house and win.”
Bowne came out firing on all cylinders from the get-go, draining three straight shots from behind the arc for the squad’s first points of the game. The Wildcats wrapped up the first quarter on a 15-point run, jumping out to a 33-7 lead after the opening eight minutes.
“We just wanted to play hard,” said sophomore Alejandro Vasquez, who finished with a team-high 30 points. “We had that intensity in the first, so we just kept going and we kept playing.”
Bowne boasted a serious height advantage at nearly every position, forcing Cardozo to play three bigs at certain points in the game.
And the Wildcats used that disparity on the boards, limiting the Judges to one-and-one shots and keeping their own possessions alive.
Hinckson led the charge on the block with 13 rebounds, while Kareem Reid chipped in 12 of his own in addition to blocking eight shots.
“We know [Cardozo] can shoot it, we know that they wanted to turn this into a track meet,” Tsapelas said. “We wanted to start off by pushing the ball down low and in the paint and see what happens from there.”
The Judges did their best to claw back into the game – sparked by Dejavanaugh Utley’s 33-point performance – but it was too little, too late and Naclerio couldn’t help but be a little disappointed.
“You figured a couple of kids would wake up and the kids didn’t wake up,” he said. “We found one or two kids might be a bit more ‘me’ kids instead of ‘we’ kids.”
Bowne put four players in double figures, but there wasn’t a single star and that’s exactly what the Wildcats want. This is a team that wants to build on its success with a team-first mindset, determined to prove itself at the next level.
There wasn’t any history made, but the Wildcats still felt as if this was a statement.
“This is a big win for us because they were a big team,” Vasquez said. “But we’re not new to the game, we’re just new to the division.”