Over the P.A. system on Friday night inside the Stepinac Gymnasium Guns N’ Roses hit song “Welcome to the Jungle,” blared loudly in the closing minutes before the opening tip of the basketball game between Stepinac and arch rival Iona Prep. The intensity of the fans in the bleachers matched the loud rhythm of lyrics of the song. The student section at Stepinac was jumping up and down as if they were each a “Cameron Crazy,” at Duke University. There was even one student dressed in a gorilla suit.
When Stepinac and Iona get together to play in any sport the atmosphere will always be serious. Neither side wants to lose to the other. When the two schools played each other at Iona a month ago it had a championship game feel.
The Crusaders and the Gaels traded baskets most of the first quarter before senior Josh James drove down the left baseline in the closing minute and laid the ball in the hoop to put the Crusaders up 12-10 at the end of the quarter. James led the Crusaders with seven points and point guard Naim Thomas scored five points including a 3-pointer.
In the second quarter the Crusaders stepped up their defense and showed the Gaels that this game was going to be different than their first matchup in December. During their first meeting the Gaels were able to stay in the game by hitting numerous 3-points shots. Those wide open looks they got a month ago were not available on Friday night as the Crusaders closed off open gaps quickly and the Gaels weren’t able to find quality shots.
This strong defense by the Crusaders allowed them to stretch their lead to 29-21 at halftime. Walter King and Andrew Murray made key baskets in the second quarter thanks to some great passing from Malik Omess. Murray ended up having six points in the quarter.
Despite their best efforts the Gaels weren’t able to close the deficit they faced. The Crusaders defense wasn’t letting up and on offense you could see that athletically the Gaels were no match for the home team. The Crusaders didn’t shoot the ball well in the third quarter but neither did the Gaels. Still they were able to make a couple more shots than their opponent to claim a 39-28 lead with just one quarter to play.
Nothing of consequence took place during the final quarter of play. King scored three straight hoops to give his team a 47-28 advantage and that was basically all she wrote for this game. Danny Hoffer nailed a 3-pointer in the closing minutes of the game to get on the scoreboard. Hoffer can throw the long bomb of a pass on the gridiron and also hit a long range shot on the hard wood. Not a bad combination for a talented athlete to have.
The final score was 57-37 in favor of the Crusaders. The Crusaders will take hold of the Brother William Stoldt trophy that goes to the annual winner of the rivalry with Iona Prep.
James finished the game as the Crusaders leading scorer with 16 points and also led his team with 10 rebounds. Thomas finished with 13 points, King had 12 points and six rebounds and Murray finished with 10 points.
On Sunday the Crusaders won an away game at Xaverian 62-51. With this win the Crusaders have a record of 12-3. A year ago they only won 10 out of their 28 games. The Crusaders have nine regular season games left. This week they will play St. Raymond’s, Bishop Loughlin and Fordham Prep.
Examiner Media – Keeping you informed with professionally-reported local news, features, and sports coverage.