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Givens’ late trey sends TMA past Holy Cross

Starting last summer, Trevor Dillard and Jason Givens spent the early part of almost every morning at the Thurgood Marshall Academy gymnasium taking jumpshot after jumpshot. Neither was happy with their perimeter game, particularly Givens, an athletic 6-foot-3 wing who knew he needed to add range on his jumper to attract college coaches.

“If you work on it enough,” he said, “you can be accurate.”

The senior is reaping the rewards.

He scored a game-high 21 points in TMA’s come-from-behind 62-61 victory over Holy Cross, the Harlem school’s first victory in the PSAL-CHSAA Challenge, at St. John’s University’s Carnesecca Arena. With Dillard, the Panthers’ leading scorer fouled out and Givens drilled the game-winner, a 3-pointer from the left corner with 34 seconds remaining.

It was a shot, his coach, Abdul-Allah Torrence said, he would never taken a year ago because he lacked confidence and wasn’t one to take charge in such high-pressure moments. But as a senior, Givens has been more than willing to be the one to take the make-or-break shot. He was moved to small forward out of necessity and has filled in as TMA’s go-to guy when Dillard has been either ineffective or on the bench.

“It surprised me he took that shot,” Torrence said, “but he knew he had to step up.”

Said Givens: “I have faith in myself once I set my feet. I knew it was going in.”

The Panthers were in such a position mostly because of their bench. Holy Cross, the defending CHSAA Class AA champion, raced out to a 20-7 lead, keyed by the hot-shooting of senior Eric Klingsberg, who scored eight points in the first quarter. Fellow guard Joseph Monahan lit them up for 12 in the second quarter, mostly on long jumpers.

Torrence went to a smaller lineup to defend those two and keep the ball out of the hands of Knights’ junior guard Jahleel Felix, using reserves Khalid Vaughn and Emmanuel Brown. The two increased the game’s pace, and forced Klingsberg and Monahan to put the ball on the floor.

“We wanted to pressure the ball, play defense, bring intensity,” said Brown, only a freshman. “Our job is to do what it takes to win.”

Senior Antoine Hackman gave TMA (4-2) its first lead, 58-57, with 2:29 remaining. The teams traded the lead twice down the stretch until Givens’ try. Cross’ sophomore forward, Marcus Hopper, missed a go-ahead lay-up and Felix was tied up with less than a second to go.

The Knights’ second loss was a disappointing one, yet not unforeseen. They graduated their entire starting lineup, including McDonald’s All-American Sylven Landesberg, now at Virginia.

“None of these guys have ever been in that position before,” Coach Paul Gilvary said. “They’ve never been up two with a minute left or down one late — it’s all new to them. We’re trying first of all to have each guy find out what they’re supposed to do and then of course the group together to find out what they’re supposed to do. It’s going to be a process.”

TMA, meanwhile, is starting to jell, having won three straight. It started in the season’s first loss, to Wadleigh, when Givens stepped up for the foul-plagued Dillard, albeit in a loss. But the Panthers came back against Cross today and held off Eagle Academy yesterday.

“This,” Torrence said, “boosts our confidence.”

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