BRONX, NY - It's not how you start but how you finish. Just ask Jon Severe.
On Tuesday afternoon, the senior shooting guard led the Christ the King Royals in an uphill battle on the home turf of Cardinal Hayes. Trailing for 99% percent of the game, the Royals would take the lead away from the Cardinals, escaping with a 71-70 season opening win.
The Cardinals came out confident and took it to Christ the King from the tip-off. As we predicted, the up-tempo pace stymied the Royals but so did the first game jitters for Severe.
"The first play of the game I was so weak, I was nervous," said Severe. The senior said he wasn't used to being in a leadership role. "[Early on], I was doing too much, trying to win."
Adding insult to injury (pardon the pun), Christ the King was short-handed as forward James Coleman suffered a meniscus injury while playing football. The Royals still managed to stay neck and neck with Hayes early in the first quarter, tying the game at 11 points with 2:27 left in the opening quarter. But the constant offensive attacks by Shavar Newkirk (19 points) and Tyler Wilson (10 points) also took its toll on Royals starting point guard Malik Harmon (11 points) who picked up two early fouls.
Down 18-14 to start the second quarter, Royals head coach Joe Arbitello was forced to sit Harmon and brought in sophomore Travis Atson (3 points). Other than Severe, shots were hard to come by for the Middle Village School. Partly due to Hayes's Big man Ramel Coleman (7 points) doing a good job at containing bigger man Adonis Delarosa (3 points)
6'2" Chris Robinson (20 points) kept Christ the King in catch-up mode as he scored frequently from the perimeter to extend Cardinal Hayes lead to 9 points.
Severe may have been nervous but it didn't show. His 18 first half points, including 4 threes, countered much of Hayes's point production, reducing their lead to 33-30 at the midway point.
It appeared as if the third quarter was to be more of the same bad medicine for the Royals, made worse by poor foul shooting. The Cardinal Hayes lead would swell to 10 points before Harmon reentered the game.
Luckily for CTK, Severe was simply unstoppable, cutting the Royals deficit to 3 points with 5 second left in the third. The Royals appeared to take one step forward and two steps back as Atson would foul Wilson attempting a 3-ball with .4 seconds. The tide however, would turn briefly as Wilson only went 1 for 3 from the charity stripe.
Hayes was ahead by 4 points to begin the final quarter but with 6:22 left to play a bucket by Wilson in transition would put them up once again by 9 points.
Again, Severe would come through, reducing the Cardinal's lead to 4 points with 2 minutes on the clock but this time his teammates joined the battle. A clutch trey by combo guard Isaiah Cosbert (6 points) from the corner would finally pull the Royals to within a point of tying the game.
A Newkirk feed to Coleman at the 1:12 mark would draw a foul from Jordan Fuchs (8 points). Arbitello said that Fuchs was not his usual self, claiming the two-sport star was still banged up from football playoffs. Coleman would only go 1 for 2 but so would Harmon on the following possession.
Still down by a point, a solid defensive stand by the Royals would result in a 24 second violation, returning the ball to Christ the King with 15.4 ticks remaining. Harmon would then drive to the hole and draw another foul with 5.2 seconds. This time the junior would go 2 for 2 from the foul line, giving the Royals their one and only lead albeit by one point. One point would be all it took to win as time expired.
Asked how big were the free-throws by Harmon, Coach Arbitello responded, "It's not just about Malik hitting [those shots], It's about us keeping our heads and playing 32 minutes of basketball and letting nothing rattle us."
Last year, Christ the King suffered a disappointing loss in quarterfinals of the CHSAA playoffs to Mt. Saint Michaels. Arbitello says that the Royals veteran experience makes this year's team better than last year.
Severe, who scored a game high 33 points, concurs and believes he's grown as a player. "We can't win with one player," he said. "We saw that last year. We can only win as a team."