Stepinac avenges its defeat
WHITE PLAINS -- So committed they are to sound defensive principles, Stepinac and White Plains are bound to produce some unsightly offensive basketball. Throw in nerves from a large crowd and the notoriously unfriendly County Center rims, and a game between the teams morphs quickly into a grind.
Stepinac's Austin Tapps goes up for a shot between White Plains defenders Anthony Williams, left, and Heath White during Tuesday night's Slam Dunk Tournament semifinal at the County Center.
Their meeting in the Slam Dunk Tournament produced a dramatic finish a year ago, but the game was played in the 40s. Both defenses were equally stingy in Tuesday night's main event, but it was Stepinac that returned the favor for last year's defeat.
The Crusaders beat White Plains 52-40 in the semifinals at the County Center behind 14 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks from Lehigh-bound senior Conroy Baltimore.
"I think that's just the way it is when Stepinac plays White Plains," Crusaders coach Tim Philp said. "Both schools play defense, are tough, and it's a city rivalry."
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for Stepinac (5-3) after a stretch that included close losses to two of the state's top Catholic school teams, St. Raymond (Bronx) and St. Mary's (Manhasset). Remarkably, it held its crosstown rival without a field goal until just 11 seconds remained in the first quarter.
Football star Odane Franklin made a layup to leave the score at 12-2 after one quarter, but shots didn't come any easier for him and the Tigers. They shot just 18.2 percent (4 for 22) in the first half. And they even connected on just 3 of 9 free throws.
The game was reminiscent of last year's, which White Plains won 46-44 as Stepinac struggled to protect the ball and generate quality shots. That problem had plagued the Crusaders less so far this season, but it reared its head Tuesday night. They coughed up 26 turnovers, including 14 in the first half alone.
But the defense more than accounted for those offensive struggles. Stepinac drew multiple offensive fouls and forced turnovers on shot-clock and five-second violations.
Now, the Crusaders will face one of their most difficult defensive challenges of the season on Thursday night at 5:45 when they play Horace Greeley and 6-foot-7 Matt Townsend for the championship. Baltimore and Townsend play on the same Westchester Hawks AAU team, so they have competed plenty in practice, just never in a game.
"I am very excited for it," Baltimore said. "I'm looking forward to it. It should really be a fun experience for us."
White Plains (2-2), which was led by 14 points from Lawrence Pope and 13 rebounds off the bench from Heath White, dropped into the consolation game and will meet Albany Academy at 4 this afternoon.