Stepinac tops Peekskill behind Taylor's 32 points
By Alex Myers
The Journal News
(Original publication: December 28, 2006)
WHITE PLAINS - It was billed as the marquee matchup. A meeting between two of the area's premier players; two athletes so well-known locally that their introductions needed only first names:
Mookie versus Melquan.
Even the names have a certain star-like quality to them, their uniqueness emblematic of the distinct basketball abilities that set them apart from most players.
But while Melquan Bolding and Mookie Jones both rose to the challenge, it was Stepinac's other star who went a little higher to make the difference. Behind a tournament-record 32 points from Tony Taylor, Stepinac defeated Peekskill 73-69 last night in the first round of the Slam Dunk Tournament at the County Center.
"We were the underdogs going in, and there was a lot of attention on Melquan and Mookie, but I came to play," said Taylor, who made 14 of 14 from the free-throw line, including 10 in the fourth quarter.
Taylor had nine points in the first half on 3-of-3 shooting from long range, but the junior took over in the third quarter. With a variety of drives, jumpers and foul shots, the point guard scored all 13 of his team's points to help maintain Stepinac's double-digit lead.
"Coach and Mel told me to put the ball in my hands, and I just took care of the rest," Taylor said.
Stepinac (5-1) will play Xaverian in the second round tonight at 8 p.m. The Clippers beat New Rochelle in their first-round matchup.
As for the matchup between Mookie and Melquan, both had ups and downs. Jones finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds, but took 32 shots. Bolding wound up with 16 points and nine rebounds, but also had seven turnovers.
"I'm just worried about the win," said Bolding, who also had three steals. "They were guarding me tight, but I'm not the only person on the team. My man Tony was knocking them down."
Jones was more open about how he felt about his personal matchup and some disparaging remarks made by Bolding before the game.
"He said there was no comparison, and everyone saw that's not true," said Jones, who also had three blocked shots and three steals. "They just got a head start on us. To tell you the truth, I think we're 20 points better. I just don't like him saying there's no comparison between us. ... He's a good player, but he's not all that."
Two late layups by De'Von Beaufort, including one off a steal to beat the third-quarter buzzer, left the Red Devils trailing by 10 heading into the final quarter.
Peekskill continued its push with a furious rally led by Jones and Michael Smythe, who tied the score at 60-60 with a spinning layup at the 2:59 mark.
Clutch free-throw shooting by Taylor kept the Crusaders in front for good, and Peekskill was finally doomed when Beaufort's driving layup that would have cut the Stepinac lead to two points was waved off by a charging call with 15 seconds to play.
Beaufort had 11 points, and Elliot Watson added 14 points and 14 rebounds for Peekskill (5-1).
The star-studded show started immediately when Taylor took the opening tip and flipped an underhand lob to Bolding, who finished with an emphatic one-handed jam. The dunk electrified the crowd, and ignited the Crusaders to a 7-0 start. Minutes later, Bolding kept the ball on a two-on-one fast-break, crossing over a Peekskill defender before going up for a two-handed slam.
Stepinac surged ahead 18-4 before a Beaufort 3-pointer late in the quarter made it 18-7 after the opening period.
Meanwhile, Jones, who came in on a shooting tear, couldn't find the range from anywhere on the court. Jones finally got on the board on a fast-break layup with 3:36 left in the second quarter. He would add two more field goals, including a ferocious two-handed dunk, but Peekskill still trailed 38-24 at the half.
Peekskill, which hadn't lost since falling to Wings Academy in the finals of this tournament last year, would have liked to write a different ending this year. Still, based on the team's runs to state titles the past two seasons, it knows a loss here isn't the worst thing .
Meanwhile, for Stepinac, getting back on the winning track after a loss at Mount St. Michael was important.
"After losing to Mount everyone was doubting us," Taylor said. "That was our motivation."
Reach Alex Myers at email@example.com or 914-696-8410.