After winning the sixth annual Dominican Tip-off Classic on Nov. 17 and 18, Queens had to wait 15 agonizing days before its next game, a 79-72 win over the Lions at Quealy Gymnasium in its New York Collegiate Athletic Conference opener Sunday.
During that stretch, the Knights practiced, practiced and practiced some more. But these weren't your run of the mill, barely-break-a-sweat practices either. They were intense. So intense that four players sustained injuries. Three - Will Hooks, Jurrell Bonaparte and Raphael Giraldo - needed stitches and another - starting point guard Phil Lyons - suffered a hip injury.
"That was the worst, all we did was practice and beat each other up," said sophomore guard Gary DeBerry, who scored a career-high 18 points. "We couldn't wait until [today]. We just wanted to come out and play hard."
And Queens (3-0, 1-0 NYCAC) did just that. After leading by just three after the first half, the Knights broke things open in the second half, opening up a 17-point lead by shooting 56.3 percent from the field and outrebounding Molloy 39-28. Like its first two wins at Dominican College, the Knights had a balanced scoring attack, with DeBerry leading five players in double figure scoring.
Senior Steve Sikiric and junior Will Hooks scored 13 points apiece, while sophomore Mike Leonce and freshman Anthony Washington, who made his collegiate debut, each added 11 points.
"Everyone got involved," said Leonce, a former Jamaica High School standout. "If one person isn't getting it done, then everyone else pushes their game up. We have two really good freshmen [Washington and Carnell Campbell] and we got senior leadership from Steve and Phil. It was a good team effort."
But two weeks of rust showed itself for a good portion of the first half and down the stretch in the second half as Molloy (2-2, 1-1) worked their way back in the game. Trailing 65-48 with 5:38 left, the Lions roared back to outscore Queens 17-10 over a span of 4:16 to cut the Knights lead to 75-64 with 1:22 remaining.
Laurelton native and August Martin grad Malcolm Watson led Molloy with 16 points, John Dinerman added 15 points and five rebounds and freshman Ozzie Oyagha from Holy Cross High School added 10 points for the Lions.
"We just got real calm,, We were a little tired at the end," DeBerry said. "We didn't have the legs."
Molloy went ahead early, 6-2, when Watson drove the baseline for a layup. But that would be the last time the Lions led as the Knights returned to score seven straight points, capped by five straight by Washington to put the Knights ahead, 9-6. Queens would never trail again.
"He's a player," Peponakis said of Washington, who missed Queens' first two games with a fractured right wrist. "He was ready to go and play. In the second half he couldn't get started again, but that's when Mike Leonce, Alex [McLean], Jurrell and Will stepped up."
The Knights played strong defense, forcing 20 Molloy turnovers. Queens also turned its defense to offense, scoring 19 points off of turnovers.
"I'm happy with the effort," Peponakis said. "It was one of the few times we got offense from our defense. We did a lot of good things today."
Leading by just three, 42-39 with 15:56 to go in the second half, the Knights went on a crucial 10-0 run to give themselves some more breathing room. Sikiric had back-to-back driving baseline layups. Will Hooks then stripped Rich Hofmann and sent down a thunderous dunk. DeBerry also drove the baseline for a bucket and Hooks capped off the run with a basket from the left blocks to put Queens ahead 52-39 with 12:49 left.
"We definitely have things to work on, but I feel real good about leaving this court with a win," DeBerry said. "We haven't won here in three years."
The Knights won't to have to worry about getting rusty for a while, as the team begins its stretch of two conference games a week. After a game scheduled for Wednesday night at Concordia, the Knights take on Southampton in its home opener Saturday at Fitzgerald Gymnasium. Tip-off is slated for 8 p.m.
"That's going to be good for us," Peponakis said. "We can't do a lot of these things in practice. We played better today than we did at Dominican, which is a start."
©2000 Community News Group
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