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Dozo falls without big star under the basket

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For someone who wasn’t in the building, Jermaine Lawrence was a major topic of conversation Saturday afternoon at Baruch College.

The nationally ranked 6-foot-9 basketball star left Cardozo suddenly last Thursday and enrolled at Pope John XXIII in Sparta, N.J. Two days later, the Judges could have used him in an 80-76 loss to New London (Conn.) in the Big Apple High School Invitational.

It was a game that was billed as a showdown between Lawrence and Providence-bound stud Kris Dunn, who went off for 35 points. Instead, Cardozo (11-3) scuffled down the stretch, which could end up further hurting the Judges’ confidence.

“That’s why today would have been nice to at least get a one-point victory,” longtime Coach Ron Naclerio said.

Compounding matters was senior Tajay Henry being taken from Baruch in an ambulance after suffering from painful cramps throughout his body due to dehydration. Naclerio said it was a testament to Henry going all out and having no regard for his body.

The hard-nosed forward finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds before crumbling to the ground and screaming in pain during the postgame awards ceremony. He tried to leave the school under his own power, but didn’t make it past the lobby, where he again fell to the floor crying out.

“He’s been a warrior,” Naclerio said. “He’s been refusing to lose. He’s one kid who’s not moping around. You hate to see him leave like this — it’s so sad.”

Three free throws from Ryan Yearwood drew Cardozo within 76-75 of New London with 8.7 seconds left. But Dunn made two free throws and then avoided a foul, capping the game with a thunderous dunk with 1.5 seconds left. The 6-foot-4 guard had eight rebounds and seven assists to go along with his 35 points.

Keith Porter added 16 points for New London. Omar Williams had 15 points for Cardozo and Yearwood added nine points and 11 rebounds.

“It was a close game,” Naclerio said. “We look like we’re still a pretty good team, I think.”

Williams agrees. He’s not upset at Lawrence at all, though he believes the timing was poor with this game against New London and Monday’s game against defending New York State Federation Class AA champion Mount Vernon back at Baruch.

“With him or without him, we still gotta play hard,” Williams said. “That’s our teammate no matter where he plays. He’s gone now, we can’t bring him back.”

The junior guard spoke to Lawrence on Friday night and said he understands why Lawrence and his mother, Marcia, decided he had to leave Cardozo. It’s up to guys like Sven Lewis Hunt and Dan Janel to emerge.

“We just have to treat it like he got hurt and he’s out,” Williams said. “We gotta keep playing.”

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