For the Cardozo boys' basketball team, old habits die hard. For most of the season, the Judges' bugaboo, their Achilles heel, has been inconsistent play, usually reserved for one quarter of the game.
But in the playoffs, the defending PSAL Class A champions had played four quarters of basketball and hadn't suffered a letdown. In the Judges' 75-65 semifinal loss to Lincoln at St. John's University on Sunday, though, Cardozo suffered a letdown, and in a big way.
The third quarter would be Cardozo's downfall. After closing out the first half on an 11-2 run, capped by a driving layup by Doug Fath (11 points), the third-seeded Judges went into the locker room with a 41-32 lead.
But the shots that dropped for Cardozo (23-5) in the first half all of a sudden were clanging off the rim in the second. Led by St. John's-bound Eric King, Lincoln (26-2) dominated the third quarter. The 6-foot-6 guard scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the third quarter as the Railsplitters, who will take on No. 1-seeded JFK (26-2) in the PSAL 'A' final Sunday at 1 p.m. at Madison Square Garden, outscored Cardozo, 23-16, in the third, to take a 55-48 lead into the fourth quarter.
"We had leads in every game this season," said Cardozo head coach Ron Naclerio. "In the games early in the season, we lost the leads. Later in the season, we managed to hold on to leads. [Lincoln] doesn't shoot like that. In the third quarter and late in the fourth quarter, they got every break partly because we screwed up. We panicked."
King not only did the job offensively, scoring on a variety of inside and outside shots, he also severely limited Cardozo forward Tremayne Singletary. The Judges' 6-foot-6 senior power forward had just 13 points, five in the second half and was forced out of the game with 2:39 left in the third quarter with his fourth foul before eventually fouling out with 50.1 seconds to go in the fourth quarter.
"Eric did a real good job on him," Naclerio said. "Tremayne, today, didn't play with the same passion he's been playing with. Unfortunately kids don't realize you climb the ladder and you can be on top of the mountain and then one slip and it's all over."
Lincoln sophomore forward Aaron Lesane also outdueled Cardozo senior Ryan Williams. While Williams scored 13 points, Lesane bombed away for 22 points, including several spectacular dunks.
"The first few times we played, Ryan outplayed Lesane and today Lesane kicked his butt," Naclerio said. He doubled him in points and [Williams] guarded him the whole game."
"Aaron's our MVP, everyone knows that," said Lincoln head coach Dwayne Morton. "He's our heart and soul. He's become like a son to me."
While King and Lesane's heroics were almost to be expected, Lincoln sophomore Anthony Strong came out of nowhere.
The 6-foot-1 swingman, who transferred to Lincoln in early February, nailed two huge threes, one to close the third quarter and another 30 seconds into the fourth quarter to give the Railsplitters a 58-50 lead.
"He was telling me, 'Coach, play me,'" Morton said of Strong. "I told him, 'I don't know if you're ready.'"
Lincoln held onto its eight-point lead throughout most of the fourth quarter. Cardozo came as close as five, 65-60, on a floater by junior point guard Darryl Hill (16 points) with 2:58 left. But Hill gave the ball right back, missing Singletary and throwing it out of bounds with 1:59 remaining.
After two missed free throws by Lesane, Hill missed another floater and King grabbed the rebound. King, who scored just six points in last year's semifinal loss to Cardozo while suffering from a bruised back, went to the line and hit two free throws. He would nail four more foul shots in the final 42.8 seconds to ice the game for the Railsplitters.
"All we had to do was get me the ball and things are going to happen," King said. "I'm known as one of those clutch players. Down the stretch that's what I am, a money player."
©2000 Community News Group
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