By Laura Amato
Kofi Cockburn stepped back from the line, closed his eyes and listened to the voice just a few feet away from him. And Tyson Walker told him one very simple thing: “Relax.”
Cockburn did just that, draining the most important free throw of his young career to lift Christ the King to a 67-66 victory over St. Raymond’s in the SNY Invitational championship at City College Jan. 28.
Cockburn, who was named the game’s MVP after a 20-point, 15-rebound performance, was quick to credit his teammate’s words for helping him sink the game-winner with just seconds on the clock.
“Tyson came to me and encouraged me a little bit, told me to do my routine and everything,” Cockburn said. “I followed through and just [went] up to the line confident. I knew that I got my team and my team got me.”
Cockburn’s free throw capped off a nail-biting victory for the Royals, as Christ the King and St. Raymond’s went toe-to-toe from the opening tipoff.
The Ravens thought they had seized some control midway through the third quarter, jumping out to a 10-point lead with 4:41 left in the period.
But that just meant it was time for the Royals to step up their game.
Christ the King responded with its own offensive outburst, wrapping up the quarter on a 13-2 run to take a one-point lead into the fourth.
“We’ve been down by 10 plenty of times in other games,” said senior guard Jose Alvarado, who finished with a game-high 21 points. “So we just stood strong.”
The two teams struggled to grab control down the stretch – exchanging buckets in the final few minutes of play.
Alvarado gave the Royals a two-point lead with 36.9 seconds on the clock – going 1-of-2 from the line – but St. Raymond’s tied the game on the next possession as Darius Lee grabbed the offensive rebound and sank the put-back bucket.
Christ the King never lost its focus, however, continuing to play with the physicality and Cockburn drew a foul with 19.8 seconds left, setting up the game-winner.
“I was really upset,” Royals’ coach Joe Arbitello said of the game-tying shot. “But our guys, that’s just a testament to their toughness. They stayed and rebounded the ball and Kofi got fouled and knocks it down.”
St. Raymond’s had a final look at the basket, but Walker’s tight defense in the backcourt made it difficult for the Ravens to move the ball and the final attempt sailed over the rim as the final buzzer sounded.
“We played hard and we played defense,” said Alvarado, who bounced back in the final after a foul-plagued performance in the opener. “We just stuck in and we, finally, played as a team.”
It’s a big-time victory for the Royals, who came up short at SNY last season, falling to Cardozo in the championship game. And most importantly, it’s a big-time confidence boost for Cockburn, who proved one very important thing – big guys can hit free throws, too.
“I think that’s the most competitive game we’ve had all season,” he said. “Every team comes to win and every team is coming hard. So we have to match their intensity.”