By Laura Amato
Christian Hinckson needed to take a deep breath.
That, however, was easier said than done when he started counting how many free throws he’d already missed. The John Bowne senior struggled at the charity stripe all night, and when he heard the whistle again, he nearly groaned at the prospect of going back to the line.
So Hinckson closed his eyes, remembered he could hit the shots and did – draining three clutch buckets to lift Bowne to a 66-63 victory over top-seeded Queens High School of Teaching in the boys’ basketball borough final at Queens College Saturday.
“I stopped thinking so much and let the ball go,” said Hinckson, who missed his first eight free throw attempts. “It was mostly mind games because I’d missed the first few. So I calmed down, took my time and knocked them down.”
Hinckson went 3-for-4 from the line in the final 1:02, snuffing out a late-game rally by the Tigers.
No. 3 Bowne led for most of the game, sparked by a strong zone defense and the sheer will of sophomore shooting guard Alejandro Vasquez, who finished with a game-high 36 points.
Teaching, however, refused to go down without a fight and the Tigers started to claw back into the game midway through the fourth quarter.
“Down the stretch it got a little bit close, a little bit ugly because we started to rush,” Bowne coach John Tsapelas said. “I told them, ‘What are we in a rush for? We can’t win until that clock shows three zeroes.’”
Jeffrey Joseph made it a one-point game with 1:14 left, draining a transition layup after Colby Simpson grabbed a steal. Hinckson followed with three free throws, however, stepping up to the line with a confidence he hadn’t quite been able to muster all game.
“Christian got a little edgy there when he missed that first free throw,” Tsapelas said. “So during that last timeout, I told him, ‘Whatever you did, doesn’t even matter. You’re too good of a free throw shooter. Just focus on that rim.’”
It was certainly dramatic down the stretch, but Bowne never once doubted that it would walk off the court with its first-ever borough title. The Wildcats, who moved up to ‘AA’ this season, kept their focus in the waning moments and when it mattered most, they locked in on both sides of the ball.
In fact, Vasquez’s biggest play of the night didn’t come with the ball in his hands. He forced a steal with 47 seconds left to set up Hinckson’s final two free throws.
“Coach always said, ‘We’re new to the division, but not new to the game,’” Vasquez said. “We just wanted to come out and play hard, execute and follow the game plan.”
The Tigers did their best to get over the final hump, but Bowne’s zone defense kept Teaching on its toes throughout the entire game – allowing just one three-point basket.
Bowne has played underdog all season and even after the borough title, the Wildcats are well aware that they still have plenty to prove.
That doesn’t mean this team is about to change its approach. Bowne will just take a deep breath and focus on its next goal – sinking a few more free throws and making a city title run.
“This is big,” Hinckson said. “Nobody knew about us before, but I bet they’ll know about us now. We’re just going to work hard every day.”