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Bosco’s Corner: Tough way to finish  for Smith

Marlon Smith was slumped over to his right, alone on the Archbishop Molloy bench except for his coach, Jack Curran. His head was buried in his hands and he was crying.

The senior point guard for the Stanners had just failed to get his team into a second overtime in the CHSAA Class A semifinal matchup against Queens rivals Christ the King Sunday at Fordham. Smith missed the first of two free throws with two-tenths of a second remaining in the first overtime period of what had been a two-point game.

The near-capacity crowd’s loyalty was mixed between the two schools, and when Smith’s first free-throw attempt hit the right side of the rim and bounced clear, there were both cheers and groans.

His only option at that point was to miss the second shot and hope for one of his teammates, most likely backcourt mate Sundiata Gaines, to tip the ball in and prolong the game just a little more.

But still stunned by his first miss, Smith’s second shot fell through cleanly, allowing Christ the King to safely inbound the ball and win the game.

It was the last game of Smith’s high school career. Sure, there may be an all-star game or two left in the Molloy senior’s future, but for all intents and purposes, Sunday was his swan song.

And missing a free throw in such a big spot just isn’t the way Smith deserved to go out.

I always thought Smith was a good point guard, but I was never quite sold on whether he would develop into a legitimate Division I talent. He joined Molloy’s varsity team with a lot of hype as a sophomore, some people even comparing him with a Molloy star from seasons past, one Kenny Anderson. But Smith never approached that level of play.

But to his credit, Smith was as solid a point guard as any high school coach could hope to expect, capable of achieving greatness if the need arose.

Smith was part of a team his sophomore season year that made it all the way to the CHSAA finals before losing in double overtime to a St. Raymond’s team led by Julius Hodge.

Last year, Molloy had a typical Stanner season, winning more than it lost and playing well enough to make it to the CHSAA quarterfinals. But last year was far from stellar for Smith and was more of a coming-out party for Gaines.

Coming into this season, a lot was thought of the Molloy two-headed monster of Smith and Gaines, compelling many — this reporter included — to believe the Stanners would be a serious contender for the city crown.

This year Smith averaged 18 points per game and had a stronger senior campaign than his two previous years on the varsity team. The problem, however, was that the rest of the league got better, too. St. Raymond’s remained the class of the city all season long, with Christ the King and Rice right behind. Molloy, even with so much talent, was usually considered the fourth-best team in a league thought of as the best in the country.

But Smith elevated his game when the regular season ended. He led Molloy to the semifinals of the Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan Tournament before a heartbreaking loss to Christ the King when teammate Ivan Marnika missed two free throws late.

So on Molloy went to the intersectionals, where Smith continued to play with a hot hand. Earning a bye in the first round, Molloy faced Rice in the quarterfinals Friday at Holy Cross High School and Smith put on a show.

The 5-foot-11 silky-smooth guard scored 28 points, including a baseline jumper over the outstretched arms of 7-foot-2 Shagari Alleyne with 9.2 seconds remaining in a tied game. The basket was the eventual game-winner and the reason Molloy was able to play Christ the King in the semis in the first place.

On Sunday, Smith was not having a great day, but neither were the Stanners as a team. Smith and Co. tried to live by the three-pointer and it cost them dearly, allowing the Royals to run out to an 11-point first-half lead.

Smith had only four points at the half and Molloy had only 19 as a team. But things started to heat up in the second half as Molloy slowly chipped away at the CK lead.

A three by Smith finally gave Molloy the lead 2:24 into the fourth and ended up scoring nine of his team’s 12 points in overtime. But he missed that one free throw, and that’s all a lot of people will ever take away from the game.

Just after the game ended, the CHSAA held an awards ceremony honoring its top players. Smith, of course, was one of them and he had to stick around for his name to be called, which is why he sat weeping on the Molloy bench.

When his name was finally announced, Smith got the biggest ovation of any of the players in his company, a testament not only to him, but to the fans who recognized that one free throw does not a man make.

He must have been still smarting a half hour later when I caught up with him. He was soft-spoken and obviously tired, but despite it all he answered every question frankly. That in itself is a lot more than so many pro athletes these days.

So, hats off to Marlon Smith, a good kid who deserved a heck of a lot better.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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