On paper, defending city champion St. Raymond entered its CHSAA ‘AA’ quarterfinal matchup against Stepinac on Sunday as the favorite after winning the New York Archdiocese tournament crown last weekend.
But parity has ruled the league all season, and the two teams split their regular season meetings. So to classify Stepinac’s 68-51 win over St. Ray’s at Fordham University’s Rose Hill Gym a huge upset wouldn’t be doing the Crusaders justice, at least according to Crusaders coach Tim Philp.
“Going into it, I thought it was 50-50,” said Philp, the CHSAA coach of the year. “They beat us down there, we beat them, they went on to win the Archdiocese (tournament.) So many crazy things are going on in the league. It’s just a whirlwind of everyone beating everyone. We want to come in, compete and just be in the game. To win it is a nice accomplishment.”
Stepinac’s Monmouth-bound senior Josh James created havoc all game, scoring a game-high 22 points while grabbing 10 rebounds and notching five assists. Junior Naim Thomas added 18 points — nine in the fourth quarter — and five rebounds.
James eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career on a three-pointer in the second quarter.
“He’s a Division I scholarship senior. At some point, he has to separate himself in a game,” Philp said. “Whether it’s getting a rebound, hitting a foul shot, not turning the ball over, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
The Ravens (18-9) trailed by five at halftime and six after three quarters, and missed free throws doomed them in the fourth. They missed seven shots from the foul line in the last eight minutes, three of which were on the front end of 1-and-1s. St. Ray’s made just five of 16 free throws in the game.
This was in stark contrast to St. Ray’s free-throw performance in the Archdiocese final against Cardinal Hayes, when it made all 15 of its attempts in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
The Ravens had prided themselves on its free-throw shooting all season.
“I always thought that was one of our biggest strengths,” first-year Ravens coach Jorge Lopez said. “And (Sunday) it was a weakness.”
Many people counted the young Ravens out before the season began, and though they failed to defend their city title, Lopez considers the season a success.
“A lot of teams thought we’d be a .500 team,” he said. “I think we proved a lot of those critics wrong. I think next year we’ll be one of the top teams coming back. For me, it was a satisfying season. Of course, it would’ve been nice to win the championship, but I’m really proud of our guys.”
Stepinac (20-7) will play Bishop Loughlin in Thursday’s semifinals at Fordham after the Lions beat Iona Prep, 72-59, on Sunday.