On Friday, Jan. 5, not even the snow and frigid temperatures stopped fans from filling the Westchester County Center to capacity for the “Crusaders Classic.” It was announced on the afternoon of the two-game event that extra seats and standing room would be added to accommodate the multitude of fans expected at the Westchester arena, in White Plains.
Fans did not disappoint and neither did the competition, as 3,219 local high school basketball fans packed into the County Center, to watch Byram Hills High School beat Ardsley High School, 51-34 and Stepinac win a double-overtime thriller over rival Iona Prep, 82-78.
With four Westchester County high school basketball teams competing; the excitement created around the “Crusaders Classic” displayed exactly why the Westchester County Center should remain the home of NYSPHSAA Section 1 High School Basketball Playoffs.
No matter the lawsuits or the legalities, one should take a look at what Stepinac Head Coach Pat Massaroni and Stepinac Athletics put together on a cold winter night at the County Center concerning high school basketball.
The rousing success of the “Crusaders Classic” should be enough to arouse the fairness and sense of tradition in decision makers to keep the Section 1 Basketball Playoffs at the Westchester County Center, where it has resided since 1933.
Massaroni, while trying to create an exciting event, accommodate as many fans as possible and win an essential basketball game, also made a huge statement in support of the high school basketball playoffs remaining at the County Center.
Newly elected Westchester County Executive George Latimer was scheduled to be recognized at the “Crusaders Classic” but he could not attend. However, the County Executive sent out a tweet regarding the event, while noting his support for the high school basketball playoffs remaining at the County Center. “Great HS Basketball @ County Center 2018 Crusaders Classic. This is where the sport belongs,” tweeted Latimer.
The “Crusaders Classic” was no less than “great high school basketball.” In fact, the Stepinac versus Iona Prep game will forever be known as one of the greatest high school basketball games ever played in Westchester County.
There were 19 lead changes with 17 ties in the double-overtime thriller and neither the Gaels nor the Crusaders led by more than four points the entire game.
Stepinac seemed to have the game won in regulation time when sophomore star guard R.J. Davis made an acrobatic shot to take the lead 67-64. But Gaels senior guard Romar Reid snuck into the right corner of the County Center court and made a three-pointer to tie.
In the first OT, the young Davis again showed that he does not fold under pressure, when he floated in two-points to put the Crusaders ahead, 72-69. But with a mere three seconds left in the first OT, Crusaders forward Xavier Wilson was called for an offensive foul, which turned the ball over to Iona. This time the Gaels came from the left corner, as senior forward Souleymane Koureissi, sank a three-pointer to send the game into a second overtime.
The Gaels had the lead in the final minute of the second overtime but the Crusaders were resilient on offense and defense. Crusaders guard Alan Griffin made a three point shot and his younger brother Adrian Griffin, Jr. issued one of his four blocks in the game in the final seconds. Stepinac held on to win a thriller, 82-78, over rival Iona Prep, in the “Crusaders Classic.”
“I am very happy for our players, program and the Stepinac community. Anytime you play your rival it is intense but tonight was a special night for the league and Westchester basketball,” stated Massaroni.
Davis and Alan Griffin both scored a game-high 26 points. Davis added five rebounds and six assists, while Griffin also grabbed six rebounds. Griffin’s younger brother, the freshman, Adrian, Jr. contributed 15 points and six rebounds with his four blocks. Wilson scored 10 points, snatched eight rebounds and had three blocks.
For the Gaels, University of Richmond bound Koureissi led the way with a double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds. Josh Alexander also notched a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Reid had 13 points and senior Bryce Wills had 14 points, six rebounds and four blocks.
Last year Stepinac High School accommodated 710 fans in their gym with people literally overflowing out of the doors for the game against Iona Prep. This year through the ingenuity of Massaroni and Stepinac Athletics, they created the “Crusaders Classic” which gave 3,219 fans the opportunity to witness a double-overtime thriller at the Westchester County Center.
“The Crusader Classic” was special. A lot of people to thank that made the event happen and a lot work was put into it and the game itself was awesome. A high level basketball game with high level players making plays after plays,” acknowledged Massaroni.
After the resounding success of the “Crusaders Classic” reports are circling that Iona Prep is considering meeting with Westchester County Center officials to have their hosted game against Stepinac moved to the Westchester arena, in White Plains.
The Iona versus Stepinac rematch is scheduled for Feb. 2, in New Rochelle. The date would have to be changed, as the County Center is booked on Feb. 2. However, there is scheduling room on both teams’ schedules to be able to accommodate the game during the first week of February at the County Center. Only problem is, what would they call it “The Gaels Classic”?