Josh James scored a game-high 22 points, while Naim Thomas contributed 18 as Stepinac applied heavy pressure early and often in its 68-51 victory over St. Raymond in the CHSAA AA Intersectional quarterfinals on Sunday afternoon at Fordham University.
Walter King chipped in nine points, Andrew Murray had six and DeMarcus Miller and Danny Hoffer each had five for the Crusaders, who will face Bishop Loughlin in the semifinals on Thursday.
“Our motto is to win by playing hard,” said James, a Monmouth commit who eclipsed the 1,000-career point mark with a three-pointer at the four minute mark of the second quarter. “The sky’s the limit, and you never know what can happen. We have two wins here now and we’re going to the final four. Anything can happen.”
Shawn Jones scored 13 points, while Luis Santos added 10 for the Ravens, the New York Archdiocesan champion who entered the week ranked No. 14 in the MSG Varsity Tri-State Top 20. Troy Ferguson notched eight points, Jaquan McKennon had nine and Brandon Adams seven for St. Ray's.
Stepinac maintained a slight lead throughout the second and third quarters, but then ran away with an impressive upset that admittedly gives the team a major boost in confidence.
“We had to go out and show them we were hungry,” Thomas said. “They came out with a lot of confidence, so we knew we’d have to show them. Everybody plays a big role on the team; it’s not just Josh and I. Walter King is a very good player, Danny Hoffer can shoot it, James Decker plays good defense – everybody plays a role and big part on the team.”
Stepinac never trailed after Decker drilled a 3-pointer with 2:40 remaining in the second to forge a 24-23 lead. Later in the third, the all-hands-on-deck approach served the team well. Hoffer hit a short jumper, King converted a layup and Hoffer flushed a three-pointer as Stepinac rattled off a short, 7-0 run and ballooned its cushion to 43-34 with 2:56 left in the session.
“It’s been serving us well all season,” James said of the balanced attack. “People look at us and underestimate us. We enjoy that. I’m glad to have everyone we have.”
The fourth brought nothing but frustration for the Ravens, who wilted defensively and continued to get out-hustled in the paint for rebounds. James nailed a jump shot with just over three minutes remaining to hand Stepinac a 60-45 lead, sealing the victory and squashing any comeback hopes.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter