By Robert Cole
Bolstered by a strong first-half offense, Francis Lewis High School boys’ basketball, defeated St. Mary’s High School from Long Island 69-61 at the NYC Snowball Classic, avenging a loss from last season.
The Patriots were led by Naeem Bland, who started the game connecting on three three-point baskets to spark a 12-0 run by Francis Lewis, which allowed the Patriots to open up a 15-4 lead with 3:33 remaining in the first quarter. The Patriots continued their strong play, led by Bland’s 10 first quarter points, gave them a commanding 25-13 advantage at the end of the first period.
The Francis Lewis defense flexed its strength in the second, creating six St. Mary turnovers that allowed the Patriots to maintain their double-digit lead. With Bland — who finished with a team-high 18 points — going scoreless in the second quarter, Kadeem James picked up the offense with six points. Moises Cordero added four points to extend the Patriots’ lead to 46-30 heading into halftime.
The Patriots extended their lead to 24 in the third quarter, starting the period with a 13-5 run sparked by three St. Mary’s turnovers.
Armed with a 59-33 lead, it appeared the game was out of reach, but St. Mary’s mounted a comeback, going on a 12-0 run to end the quarter.
St. Mary’s continued its strong play early in the fourth quarter, cutting its deficit to eight points, leading to a time-out by Francis Lewis.
The Patriots scored coming out of the time-out to push lead back to 10 points at 62-52.
The teams swapped baskets before Francis Lewis clamped down on defense and converted some late free throws to secure the 69-61 victory.
“I feel like we contributed really well on defense and although at the end we started to slack a little bit, we ended up getting the win anyway, which was a good thing,” Bland said after the game.
“It was like a tale of two halves,” Francis Lewis coach Gerald Ciarleglio said. “The first half we controlled the tempo and we got them doing what we wanted them to do. In the second half, we lost that. We lost our edge and our intensity for a long strip there.
“We are still learning how to close out games,” he added. “Since we were so young for so many years, we are used to playing from behind. But now that we were up by 20, we let them come from behind, so we have to get better at that.”