By Robert Cole
Friday night’s game between Archbishop Molloy and Christ the King was a matchup that New York City basketball fans have been waiting for all season, and it certainly lived up to expectations.
In front of television cameras and a packed gym, the Royals earned a hard-fought victory over the Stanners, 64-61, taking the lead in the CHSAA’s Brooklyn-Queens Division in the process.
Christ the King got off to a fast start, taking an 11-2 lead to electrify the crowd. The run was driven by a three-pointer from senior Tyson Walker to open the scoring, along with a thunderous dunk by Moussa Cissa.
Molloy bounced back with a 16-7 run behind seven points from senior Orrin Barfield and six points from junior Cole Anthony to tie the game at 18 by the end of the first quarter.
The Royals had to rely on a team approach to pull out the victory, calling on their bench to step up as Cissa got into foul trouble early in the game, which resulted in him spending a lot of time on the bench. The freshman forward recorded his third foul at the midway point of the second quarter.
The Stanners took advantage of Cissa’s absence, going on a 9-3 run to end the first half with a five-point lead at 37-32. Anthony led the way as he topped all scores with 23 points, showing the crowd why he is considered the nation’s top-ranked junior guard.
Molloy extended its lead to seven to start the third quarter, but sophomore Ryan Meyers hit two three-pointers to put Christ the King back in front. Meyers led the Royals with 17 points and hit four threes in the second half.
The Stanners kept the pressure on in this seesaw affair, taking the lead right back after senior Moses Brown scored on three consecutive possessions to make it 48-44. Molloy took a five-point lead into the final quarter at 52-47.
The tension was high in the final frame, as junior Kofi Cockburn and Brown traded baskets to begin the period before Christ the King took the lead back for good. Meyers hit two more three-pointers to put the Royals back on top with 4:30 remaining in regulation. A Cissa slam dunk late upped the Royals’ lead to 64-60, before he fouled out with 47.5 seconds to play.
Anthony hit one of the two ensuing free throws to pull the Stanners within three. Christ the King drew some fouls late to give them a chance to put Molloy away for good, but missed free throws gave the Stanners one last shot to equalize. Anthony just missed a three-point shot at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime. Christ the King survived and took sole ownership of first place.
“We needed to get a win,” Christ the King coach Joe Arbitello said. “We needed to show that we’re right there with the elite teams. We needed to show that we can play a tough team and beat a tough team.”
“It’s a confidence builder,” added Royals’ leading scorer Ryan Meyers. “That’s a tough team, they have major players on their team, and to get the win on this stage is great.”
That confidence will be tested immediately as these two teams will meet up again Friday, Feb. 9, at Molloy. The fans can only hope that the rematch lives up to the excitement generated by their first showdown.