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Posted Friday, December 07, 2012 by JUNGLE REPORTER

Listed at a generous 6-foot-3, senior forward Andrew Murray isn’t just the tallest Stepinac starter, he’s tied for the tallest player on the roster. That left the Crusaders at a size disadvantage Thursday night against visiting Fordham Prep, a disparity that will only be exacerbated in the coming months against some of the CHSAA and PSAL’s best.

“We’re going to have to play strong inside and rebound, but when we get the ball, we have to go,” senior Josh James said. “We have to be a run ‘n gun team because if we slow down against bigger teams, it’s going to give them an advantage.”

Against the methodical Rams, Stepinac couldn’t speed up, but its backcourt depth and overall quickness proved stifling.

The Crusaders forced 21 turnovers and limited Fordham Prep in a 46-26 win.

James, the Monmouth-bound guard, led the way with 18 points. Junior newcomer Walter King added 12 and Murray – the de facto center – chipped in six points, eight rebounds, three blocks and three steals.

Stepinac had 12 steals total and limited the Rams to just two points in the first quarter, two factors which helped negate their 11 offensive rebounds.

“We are small. They killed us on the boards,” Crusaders coach Tim Philip said.

“But, defensively, we’re scrappy enough to force them to play faster and turn the ball over.”

Stepinac improved to 3-0 after an 0-3 start last season. Although the competition hasn’t matched that of last season, the Crusaders are pleased. King and fellow junior Boz Bernstein have both started strong, filling the void left by graduation and the absence of returning guard Naim Thomas, who is out with a stress fracture in his ankle.

With league rivals like Cardinal Hayes, Mount St. Michael and Iona Prep ahead, Stepinac understands the importance of building confidence.

“It should be always a building process for us and we need to continue to strive forward,” Murray said. “As the season goes on, it’s going to get harder and harder. Even though we’re small, we’re going to have to play hard to win.”

Against Fordham, that meant chasing a ball-control offense around for much of the shot clock.

Fordham guards Patrick Quirke (Buchanan) and Connor Murphy (Hartsdale) kept Stepinac busy until fouling out in the fourth quarter.

Murphy, a senior, led Fordham with just six points. The Rams never managed double digits in a quarter and were whistled for 25 fouls.

After last season’s start at eventual Archdiocesan champ St. Ray’s sparked an inconsistent season, Stepinac won’t complain.

“It’s a confidence booster starting off the year 3-0,” James said. “Last year we were 0-3. This year we’re 3-0 and we just want to keep it going.”

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