By Robert Cole
Cardozo basketball coach Ron Naclerio knew that before he could begin to think about winning his fourth NYC PSAL Basketball Championship, his team would have to accomplish their goal of capturing the 2018 PSAL Queens Borough Championship.
Naclerio and the Judges did just that, outplaying Construction to earn a hard-fought 64-55 victory over the Wildcats last weekend at Queens College.
“It was a great team effort. It’s great to be ‘King of Queens’ again,” Naclerio said after the victory.
The win gives the Judges their second PSAL Queens Division title in three years. This victory marked a measure of revenge for Cardozo over Construction for their loss to the Wildcats in 2015 borough final. But the win wasn’t straightforward.
“Today, I knew we were going to have problems, on this court,” Naclerio said. “… it was going to be tough for us to chase after them.”
The Judges played without one of their top players in Dejavaughn Utley, who was serving the final game of a four-game suspension as a result of an altercation earlier this month. That didn’t stop the Judges from accomplishing their goal.
Cardozo got off to a fast start, with a 15-5 run to take an early 10-point lead, powered seven points from Pete Pavlidis and five from and Marcus Hammond. But the Wildcats clawed their way back into the game with a 7-2 run to cut the deficit in half and finish the first quarter trailing 17-12.
Construction continued their run early in the second quarter, rattling off nine unanswered points behind the shooting of Jasiah Wright, who scored half of his team’s points during the 16-2 run, as the Wildcats gained their first lead of the game at 21-17. The teams battled back and forth for the remainder of the quarter, with the Judges reclaiming the lead on a basket by Hammond which gave ‘Dozo a 28-27 advantage heading into the break.
Construction came out hot to start the second half, going on a 10-2 run — capped off by a three-point basket by Ezra Burnett — to take a seven-point lead. But Cardozo refused to allow the Wildcats to gain control of the game, coming back with their own 12-4 run to end the third quarter with a narrow 42-41 lead. Construction had a chance to reclaim the lead before the end of the third, but Kareem Phillips’ last-second three-pointer rolled out of the basket, allowing the Judges to keep enter the decisive final quarter with the advantage.
Wright kept the Wildcats in the game early in the fourth, scoring five straight points, but Cardozo’s Jaylen Davis countered with 10 of his own during the same time frame, giving the Judges a 53-46 lead that they would not surrender.
“I was having a rough game,” Davis said. “My coaches told me to just shoot when you get the ball, so I just shot it. I kept playing, I made shots, and I felt good. I kept playing and we got the win, that’s all that matters,” Davis added.
Behind Davis’ spectacular fourth quarter, Cardozo outscored the Wildcats 22-14 to secure a 64-55 win.
Now, with 12 days off between games, the Judges will use the time to prepare for their next challenge.
“We’ve been through so much, we’ve had to build chemistry and though we are still growing, I think we are so much better now,” Davis said. “And when Dejavaughn Utley comes back, we are most definitely ready to make a run at the city title.”
Reaching the final game of the borough championship allowed Utley to complete his suspension, making him eligible to return to his role as one of the team’s leaders just in time for the city-wide playoffs.
“I know when we get Utley — who’s definitely a top-5 PSAL player — back, it will change so much for our team,” Naclerio said.
With the victory over Construction, Cardozo earned the No. 3 seed and a first-round bye in the PSAL City-Wide Class AA Basketball Championship, which is slated to begin Tuesday. The Judges are scheduled to play their first game of the playoffs in the second round on March 1. As the third-ranked team, the Judges find themselves on a collision course with No. 2 Jefferson for a showdown that will bring out high school basketball fans throughout the city.
The loss drops High School for Construction down to the No. 8 seed, where they are scheduled to take on No. 25 Martin Van Buren on Tuesday.