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First-half blitz holds for Royals vs. TMLA

Bria Smith grabbed the ball out of the air off the opening tip and, before the packed crowd was even settled into their seats, she swooped to the basket for an acrobatic layup. The Christ the King junior guard didn’t stop scoring until the buzzer sounded, signifying the end of the first half.

CK was all over Mary Louis from the start, scoring 13 of the game’s first 16 points. The Royals were intense defensively and relentless on offense — the two things that enabled them to play with some of the country’s best teams at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Ariz., last month.

“We wanted to come right out,” Christ the King Coach Bob Mackey said. “I wanted to get out of the gate early.”

The Royals took their foot off the pedal, though, after halftime and host Mary Louis came back to cut its deficit to just five points in what would be a 65-57 Christ the King victory Saturday night in CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Division I girls basketball.

It was an odd game to pinpoint. CK (7-3, 4-1 B/Q), ranked No. 4 in New York City by the New York Post, looked so dominant on both ends of the court at times. Yet No. 6 Mary Louis (6-3, 3-1) hung around despite countless missed layups and 17 missed free throws.

“It was excellent defense in the first half,” Mackey said. “In the second half, we took a little bit of a vacation. We played 20 minutes.”

Christ the King’s largest lead was 45-24 at halftime. Mackey admitted to his team taking its foot off the pedal a bit in the second half and Mary Louis, despite foul trouble, gained confidence. The Hilltoppers still trailed 56-39 with 26.2 seconds left in the third quarter, but used a 12-0 run capped by a Karin Robinson basket to get within 56-51.

Nia Oden scored twice inside down the stretch for the Royals, though, and Smith’s steal and fast-break layup with 1:53 brought the lead back to 63-53, pretty much sealing things.

“You have to stay calm at those points,” Smith said of when teams are mounting a comeback. “You can’t rush it. I think sometimes we rushed too much.”

It was defense on that steal that cemented the victory and it was defense that helped give Christ the King the lead in the first place. CK’s press created turnovers and transition opportunities and, in the halfcourt, its 2-3 zone was difficult to contend with for Mary Louis. Royals senior forward Ariel Edwards drew an incredible seven charges. Mackey called that the difference in the game.

“That was one of my goals,” the Penn State-bound Edwards said. “Last year against them, I picked up a lot of fouls, because I wasn’t moving my feet.”

Smith had 20 of her 25 points in the first half and Edwards finished with 17 points for Christ the King. Camille Romero had 13 points, Avis Benjamin and Christy Calderon each had 11 points and Robinson added 10 for Mary Louis.

The reason for the early intensity and fire was simple, Edwards said. Last month’s loss to Bishop Ford — just CK’s second league loss in 10 years — has been a thorn in their side.

“We’ve been getting a lot of talk from people, ‘Oh, you guys aren’t as good this year,’” Edwards said.

Added Smith: “I feel we have to prove ourselves every time we come out.”

They certainly did Saturday — for a half.

Reach Marc Raimondi at mraimondi@nypost.com.

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