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Royals quash Lions’ comeback

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Christ the King needed one last play of its own to finally turn back Jayvaughn Pinkston’s onslaught.

The Bishop Loughlin junior forward was in the midst of a transcendent second half. He attacked the basket, hit the glass and even found his stroke from behind the arc, relentlessly trying to erase Christ the King’s lead. Pinkston made play after play and slashed his team’s deficit to three points after a pair of two free throws with 21.4 seconds left.

The Royals found an answer, though.

On the ensuing possession, with the Lions pressing, Corey Edwards saw Sean Johnson run across the court and break deep up the right side.

“It wasn’t designed at all,” Johnson said. “I read the defense.”

Edwards delivered a perfect baseball pass to Johnson. The senior caught the ball in stride, was fouled going to the basket and completed a three-point play, taking the energy out of the Lions’ comeback.

“I told [Edwards] only if he was naked to give him the basketball,” Christ the King Coach Joe Arbitello said. “Obviously he wasn’t, but it’s a big play. The one thing about Sean Johnson is, you throw that ball up to him, he is coming down with it.”

Pinkston wasn’t done.

He capped his 39-point performance with a third three-pointer and a dunk with two seconds left. Marion Smith, though, made his two free throws with 6.9 seconds left to help Christ the King hold on for an 81-79 win in CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens boys’ basketball in front of a loud, standing-room only crowd at Loughlin Friday night. Christ the King is now in sole possession of first play in the division.

“This is the biggest stage right here,” Arbitello said. “To win at Loughlin and to play like that against Loughlin, they are not going to have a tougher place to play than this place. This is a great environment.”

The Royals (16-2, 6-1 CHSAA B/Q) had the Loughlin fans silenced in the second quarter as they outscored the Lions, 22-8, and made four of their six first-half three-pointers during a 16-0 run. Edwards, who scored 11 points, connected on two of the shots from behind the arc. Johnson, who had 24 points, followed a miss with a two-handed slam in transition to help to give Christ the King a 43-30 lead at the half.

Loughlin Coach Rudy King, who coached Edwards with the New Heights AAU program, said he let the sophomore shoot because his strength is as a penetrator.

“When he did hit the two jump shots we were jabbing a little bit, ‘You can’t shoot’, that type of thing,” King said. “I’m about the kids. So I’m happy for him, but at the same time we are competing against each other.”

If he was happy about that then he had to be ecstatic about what he saw after halftime.

Pinkston scored 29 points in the second half and was able to get Christ the King forward Dominykas Milka in foul trouble. Loughlin’s pressure got to the Royals a bit in the third and was forcing turnovers. A Pinkston layup cut the Christ the King lead to just 51-50 with 1:00 left in the third. Manfred Cadet added 15 points for the Lions (10-5, 4-1).

Then Smith scored four of his 24 points to start the fourth to rebuild a seven-point cushion. Loughlin would cut the lead to 59-57 on a jumper by Branden Frazier. It was the closest they would get for the rest of the game. The Royals’ guards had answers for each of Pinkston’s spurts.

“We had to respond,” Johnson said. “He was shooting real well. We didn’t know he was going to do that.”

Johnson scored back-to-back baskets and Edwards later knocked down two free throws to give Christ the King a 75-65 lead with 1:23 remaining. Milka came back to earn an important tie-up with Pinkston, who hit two 3s to get Loughlin within striking distance before Johnson’s big three-point play.

Pinkston’s thought as the ball sailed to Johnson: “Damn.”

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