Stepinac shows some grit
Crusaders hang with St. Ray's in opener before falling 61-55
12:40 AM, Dec. 10, 2011 |
Stepinac's Naim Thomas (2) goes up for two over St. Raymond's Larry Graves (10) during Friday's game. St. Ray's won 61-55. / Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News
NEW YORK — Without its top player from a year ago and any parachute that St. Ray’s might look past it as a non-league opponent, Stepinac’s debut in the CHSAA’s “AA” was a formidable challenge. Twice the Crusaders appeared destined to watch their season opener slip away, but they weathered each storm on the road against one of the league’s top teams.
Eventually, the Ravens’ size and depth prevailed, but Stepinac played them until the final seconds in a 61-55 league loss.
“It makes us feel good because, like I said before, we’re ready,” junior guard Josh James said. “We’re ready to move up. We’re ready to compete.”
James led Stepinac (0-1) with 17 points, including 10 in the first half to help his team tie the score 22-22 late in the second quarter. But that’s when St. Ray’s sparked its best run, an 8-0 blitz to end the half led by Iowa State-bound swingman Kerwin Okoro.
The Crusaders fell behind by 12 in the third quarter as three starters — Tyler Iacuone and forward Devino McRae and Quarry Greenaway — fell into foul trouble. But a 3-pointer by James and a three-point play by sophomore Naim Thomas shifted the momentum. Stepinac trailed just 40-34 heading into the fourth quarter.
St. Ray’s lead hovered between six and 10 points as the teams traded baskets. The 6-foot-5 Okoro and and 6-7 Temple-bound senior Daniel Dingle crashed the boards, refusing to allow Stepinac to make a key stop. Dingle had 16 points and nine rebounds while Okoro added 13 points and 11 boards.
The Crusaders weren’t lost inside though thanks to McRae, a 6-6 newcomer who transferred from Bronx Charter Prep and sat out all of his junior season. The big man registered seven points, but had 12 rebounds against a Division I-level big man in Dingle, who ranks among the city’s best.
“I think I did well. I had good help defense from my team so it was easier than expected,” said McRae, who had 30 people from his old school who came to watch him play. “He’s a good scorer, so I just have to put my mind to the challenge and I can continue to do well.”
Stepinac’s James Decker actually hit a 3 in the final minute then had another from the left corner that would’ve cut the deficit to three points. The shot was long, and St. Ray’s went on to finish off the Crusader threat.
“First ‘AA’ game, on the road, against one of the preseason favorites – them and Christ the King. Obviously, we want to win, but I’m not upset,” coach Tim Philp said. “We have to stay here and keep getting better.”
St. Ray’s played much of the game without one of the city’s top juniors, Shane Rector. He suffered an apparent ankle injury in the first quarter and did not return.