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Bulldogs make their case

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Arthur Santanna hears it all the time. Queens is soft. Queens A West is one of the weakest divisions in the city. Star Aaron Williams isn’t around anymore to bail out Long Island City, last year’s PSAL Class A runner-up.

After Saturday’s impressive victory, however, the Bulldogs’ doubters don’t have a leg to stand on. In a matchup of title contenders, LIC held off Brooklyn Collegiate 63-61 in the PSAL ‘A’ Boy Basketball Showcase at Mott Haven in the Bronx, a win that should assure the Queens school of at least a top four seed in the upcoming city playoffs, if not the top spot overall.

“When you look back at your season, you can say what were the key wins,” LIC Coach Harley Watstein said. “Without a doubt, today was a key win. This team on paper was the best team we have beat. With everybody watching, the kids stepped up. I couldn’t be more proud.

LIC’s four core seniors — Santanna, Kevin Green Jr., Sadjia Camara and Xavier Jones — excelled, as has been the case the entire season. Santanna was important to LIC holding off multiple Brooklyn Collegiate rallies with 16 of his 22 points after halftime and did fine work breaking the Lions’ relentless full-court pressure.

Camara made sure the Bulldogs took a six-point lead into halftime, scoring 17 of 22 points in a brilliant second quarter in which he sank all three of his three-point attempts and added two traditional three-point plays. Jones added 10 points and Green had nine. Ervin Mitchell, one of the city’s top scorers who came in averaging 27 points per game, led Brooklyn Collegiate with 19 points.

“It was crazy — it felt like a championship game,” Camara said.

When told he scored 17 points in one quarter, Camara gave Santanna a high-five he was so surprised.

“I was just feeling it, all my shots were dropping,” he said. “I never [had a quarter] like that in my whole life.”

The victory gives the Bulldogs (19-2) a chance at receiving the top seed. They are undefeated in Queens A West — one of only ‘A’ teams who can say that — and have now beaten Brooklyn Collegiate, the favorite for the spot before Saturday’s result.

“I think we deserve a top seed — we want the No. 1 seed,” Camara said.

Brooklyn Collegiate (18-3), which has now lost three of its last eight games dating back to New Year’s Day, actually rallied to take a 41-40 lead late in the third quarter on an Adrian Williams basket. Santanna, however, answered with five straight points inside and LIC never trailed again.

“He had his best game by far,” Watstein said of the 6-foot-3 Santanna, who missed last season’s playoffs because of a staph infection. “He finished at the basket, he made his free throws, he was all over the place. He came out of the game for like 30 seconds.”

Mitchell’s three-point play brought the Lions within 56-54 with 3:04 left, but Santanna and Green answered with two free throws apiece. Williams, Rashaad John and Jahlil Tripp missed game-tying three-point attempts in the final seconds.

“By us winning, it shows everybody we have a good team,” Santanna said. “Everybody is saying we’re in a weak division, but this shows we’re a top three team and we can probably go all the way.”

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