By Laura Amato
Joe Arbitello stood in front of his team Monday night and told them one very simple thing – shoot the ball.
Christ the King wasn’t quite at its best in the first half, struggling to score and failing to push tempo in the squad’s first-round BQCHSAA matchup against Xaverian at Archbishop Molloy.
That changed in the second half. The third-seeded Royals didn’t just shoot better, they played like they’d had several shots of espresso, rolling to a 72-53 victory.
“I thought were playing well in the first half and then we stayed on 18 [points] for about three minutes, missing layups,” Arbitello said. “We needed to put the ball in the basket. In the second half, we just changed up the defense a little bit and they helped us by turning the ball over.”
Christ the King led wire-to-wire, but the Royals did not play their best basketball in the first 16 minutes of play. In fact, Xaverian – who the Royals had beat handily twice during the regular season – made it a one-point game twice during the second quarter.
The Royals answered with a six-point run, taking a 34-28 lead into the break, but the squad was far from satisfied with its performance and Arbitello challenged his group at halftime.
“The problem with this game is there’s no one in the gym and it’s 6 o’clock on a day you were off,” he said. “We’re playing a team we don’t think is very good, but they have to be playing pretty good because they were in the game at Loughlin the last game they played.”
Christ the King opened up the third quarter on a nine-point run, sparked by Kofi Cockburn on the block. The Clippers simply didn’t have an answer for the sophomore forward’s size and his emphatic dunks – plural – were more than enough to grab a bit of second-half momentum.
“I’m just coming down and posting up, getting into position,” said Cockburn, who finished with a game-high 19 points. “My teammates are going to get it to me if I’m open and I’m just getting to work from there.”
The Royals pushed the ball in transition throughout the second half, led by both Jose Alvarado and Tyson Walker in the backcourt, and Christ the King outscored Xaverian 26-11 in the third quarter alone.
If there was a downside to the Royals lopsided win, it came late in the period when Alvarado was forced to the bench with a back issue. He finished with 14 points and five assists, but never returned.
He didn’t have to – his squad took care of business without him.
“We played some zone,” Arbitello said. “We got some steals and some layups. I thought Phil [Joseph] coming off the bench gave us a spark. He got a couple of rebounds for us and kind of set the pace.”
It’s been an up-and-down season for Christ the King, who lost a heartbreaker to Molloy in the regular-season finale, but the Royals feel as if they’re finally hitting their stride. The team believes it’s ready to make a deep playoff run, certain one halftime speech is enough to push them into March.
“We are young, but as coach told us, if we play hard we can win,” Cockburn said. “Other teams have seniors so they’re stronger and they’ve got more experience, but if we match their intensity and play hard, get physical, we’re going to play.”