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Lohud.com Stepinac wins Slam Dunk

Posted Monday, December 31, 2012 by Seth Harrison - Lohud.com
 

Boys basketball: Josh James lifts Stepinac to Slam Dunk win over New Rochelle

12:20 AM, Dec 31, 2012   |  
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Stepinac's Josh James collides with New Rochelle's Donny Powell during the boys championship game of the Slam Dunk Tournament at the Westchester County Center in White Plains Dec. 30, 2012. Stepinac defeated New Rochelle 60-50.( Seth Harrison / The Journal News )
Stepinac's Josh James collides with New Rochelle's Donny Powell during the boys championship game of the Slam Dunk Tournament at the Westchester County Center in White Plains Dec. 30, 2012. Stepinac defeated New Rochelle 60-50.( Seth Harrison / The Journal News )

Seth Harrison/The Journal News
New Rochelle's Donny Powell shoots a reverse layup against Stepinac on Sunday during the boys championship game of the Slam Dunk Tournament at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. / Seth Harrison/The Journal News
 

WHITE PLAINS — Like it had in consecutive fourth-quarter comebacks, New Rochelle stepped forward with pressure Sunday night at the Slam Dunk. The Huguenots came forward in a wave of arms and legs, bringing a defense designed to squeeze Stepinac into submission. Instead, the Crusaders handed the ball to perhaps the county’s surest hands on the floor of Westchester’s basketball mecca.

Stepinac was confronted with a few skittish moments, but senior Josh James helped secure a 60-50 victory against New Rochelle in the championship at the County Center. His MVP effort included 12 points, five rebounds, seven assists and four steals.

It also proved just as noteworthy for what he avoided: Turnovers.

“I feel like every game the fourth quarter is my time,” said the Monmouth-bound guard. “As a leader, you want to take over and be in control at that point and that’s what I did tonight.”

New Rochelle trimmed Stepinac’s lead to as little as a point on senior Benny Bracey’s basket with just over two minutes remaining. The Crusaders (9-1) had gone cold in the fourth quarter until senior Andrew Murray sent a charge through his team’s bench.

He drove baseline for a layup as the shot clock ticked down to give Stepinac a 54-49 lead.

“That was definitely it,” said Murray, who finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. “I knew that would bring my team up and help us push through to get the win.”

The basket dropped with 1:18 left and highlighted a 10-1 closing surge.

Stepinac received an early offensive boost from junior Naim Thomas, who scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the first half.

He also dished to Boz Bernstein for a 3-pointer at the buzzer that lifted the Crusaders to a 31-29 halftime lead. They never trailed again.

“I was focused — real focused,” said Thomas, who shot 8 for 14 and hit three 3-pointers. “I came into this game knowing I had to be a slasher and a scorer.”

Senior Joe Clarke fouled out in the final minute but not before scoring 22 points and grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds for New Rochelle (2-4). His team actually finished with a 35-27 edge on the glass but succumbed to Stepinac’s quickness, which forced 26 turnovers.

The Crusaders caused 54 turnovers in two games to win the Slam Dunk for the second time in three years.

Stepinac will host league favorite Cardinal Hayes in a Friday night triple-header looking to avenge its only loss. It is already one win shy of last season’s total.

“Last year was the backbone to build our team up for this year,” Murray said. “We’re so happy that we’re doing this going into the New Year. We just have to keep it up and keep practicing hard.”

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