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Winning one for grandma

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Before Thomas Edison’s latest non-league test Saturday, John Ulmer told his players about the condition of his grandmother, Dorothy Valentine.

The 88-year-old woman, who Ulmer is very close with, broke her collarbone and is under hospice care at her Deer Park, L.I., home. She may not have long to live.

The Inventors promised the fourth-year coach that they would win one for Valentine.

“His family is real supportive,” senior point guard Stephon Hodges said. “They come out to a lot of games. We played extra hard for his grandmother.”

Did they ever.

Not only did Edison come through with its promise, but it played what Ulmer described as “definitely our best game,” knocking off Princeton Day Academy (Md.) 78-62 in the finale of the fourth annual Queens Jam Christmas Classic at John Bowne High School in Flushing.

Isiah Stokley earned MVP honors for his 22-point, seven-rebound, five-steal and five-assist performance. Hodges added 17 points, six steals and five assists and Eddie Egharevba scored 20 points.

But it was the Inventors’ play on the other end of the court — an area Ulmer has repeatedly criticized — that was the difference. Edison (7-3) would have held the high-scoring opposition, a team that had reached 80 points five times and arrived 9-0, under 60 if not for extended garbage team.

Center Stephen Nwaukoni, who had six points and 10 rebounds, blocked five shots. Edison had 12 steals. They contested every shot, kept the lane closed and cut off penetration, bottling up Princeton Day with pressure.

“If they can play defense like that,” Ulmer said, “they can play with anybody. … We’ve worked on it a lot. We have to get guys to realize help [defense] shouldn’t have to be called; it should be automatic.”

Stokley, a 6-foot-3 senior, said he had only seen such an effort on the defensive end in practice. Usually, Edison struggles containing the opposition’s top scorers and keeping them off the glass. But against a team that featured four athletic frontcourt players at least 6-foot-5, that wasn’t a problem.

“We didn’t let their size intimidate us,” Hodges said.

Part of the effort Saturday also came from Ulmer telling his players they were one of the five worst defensive clubs in Queens.

“That motivated us,” Stokley said. “We know we can score. It’s about stopping the opponent.”

For once, the Inventors stood toe-to-toe with a tough, non-league foe. The Jamaica school lost its season-opener to Boys & Girls by 13, was blitzed by Bishop Loughlin by 39 and fell to Xaverian by seven. While Princeton Day may not be quite as good as Loughlin, the CHSAA power from Brooklyn, it is arguably on an even par with the other two.

“Today,” Stokley said, “was a day to make a change.”

Edison beat Princeton Day, which finished last year the fourth-ranked Christian school in the United States, according to the National Christian School Athletic Association, in transition and out-executed them in half-court sets. Hodges was the orchestrator, getting into the lane, setting up others and knocking down step-back jump shots himself. They virtually owned the paint, playing taps on the glass.

Players didn’t dwell on mistakes — a previous problem. Forward Brandon Gibson, who led Princeton Day with 24 points, sent the gym into a frenzy with a ferocious one-handed dunk over two defenders early in the first quarter. Nwaukoni blocked his shot on the next possession. Princeton Day cut the Inventors’ big first-half lead to one late in the first half, yet the lead was back to double digits early in the third quarter.

“Today we had that toughness,” Ulmer said. “They made a run and we stopped it.”

“We were looking for a game where we could do everything right like this,” Hodges added. “We couldn’t have picked a better opponent.”

Posted 6:33 pm, October 10, 2011
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