By Gregory Alcala
The Queens High School of Teaching boys’ basketball team made a statement Tuesday – one the squad has been waiting to make for years.
The Tigers took down borough foe Cardozo 88-75, getting off to a quick start in the first quarter and holding their lead down the stretch. It was just the second time QHST defeated the Judges since 2013.
“To be the best we have to beat the best,” QHST head coach Mike Shelton said. “Cardozo has been the best in Queens, one of the best in the city for years and they have been dominating Queens. We have to work hard to get this win.”
QHST (13-0) brought pressure from the opening whistle, using a full-court attack and a handful of early defensive stops to keep Cardozo on its toes. The shutdown defense also led to some easy transition baskets on offense with the Tigers’ senior quartet of C.J. Kelly, William Ellis, Kion Hill and Jamie Nurse leading the charge.
The squad found a nice rhythm on offense, converting on fast-breaks, long and mid-range attempts, but the collective defense of the Tigers was the story. Their stifling pressure forced the Judges (7-2) to turn the ball over and the shot-blocking presence of Nurse and Kelly didn’t allow anything easy inside for slashing guards Dejavaugn Utley and Nasan Ayala.
The Tigers jumped out to a 21-6 lead after the first eight minutes of play, racking up six blocks in the process.
“The first starting five minutes set the pace of the game,” said Ellis, who led all scorers with 19 points. “Coach told us to go out with intensity and we started pressing and getting turnovers and converting baskets.”
‘Dozo did its best to bounce back in the second, sparked by Jayson Robinson’s strong performance off the bench. The junior guard connected on some perimeter shots, attacked the rim and, for a while, had the Tigers’ defense on their heels. Robinson’s layup with 1:38 left in the second cut the Tigers’ deficit to eight at 30-22, but the Tigers responded with a big three-pointer from Justin Steed (17 points) to end the first half.
QHST didn’t take its foot off the collective brake, increasing its lead to as much as 19 points, but didn’t play as sharp down the stretch.
“At the end, I was very upset and I just addressed the guys about that. We got sloppy,” Shelton said. “I think guys got selfish, they saw that we had a lead, they started forcing the shots, maybe trying to add to their stat line. If we control the tempo, we would be okay and guys kind of went away from the game-plan at the end.”
For as efficient as the Tigers had been on offense in the first half, they were just as sloppy in the second, rushing shots and giving Cardozo a chance to claw its way back.
The Judges made it a 10-point game with just under three minutes left to pay before QHST junior guard Dwight Reed drained a pair of free throws to pad the cushion and help secure the victory.
It might not have been perfect, but the Tigers waited a long time to get this victory and, most importantly, stay perfect on the season. Cardozo, meanwhile, is hoping to find answers after a second loss that showed some of the team’s offensive shortcomings.
“We just got to keep working, I mean we’ve had some great moments this year,” ‘Dozo coach Ron Naclerio said. “Unfortunately, they don’t realize that it’s like a baseball game. You win seven innings and get destroyed two innings and you could lose the game. When you’re down 20, it’s hard to fight back and that’s what happened in our two losses.”