The Christ the King boys’ basketball team has shown a knack for overcoming obstacles this season and did so again Friday, defeating Holy Cross 68-55 at William J. O’Meara Memorial Gym without the presence of head coach Joe Arbitello, who missed the game with a flu.
Under the direction of freshman coach Artie Cox, who was coaching his first catholic high school varsity game, the Royals displayed a balanced offensive attack — all five starters scored at least 10 points — and a stingy defense that collectively reached double-digits in both blocks and steals.
“We’re getting there,” Cox said. “On our trip to Missouri we took some lumps, but we grew from that, we matured. We lost two games out there. We got beat even though we did not think we were going to get beat, but that kind of pulled us together. When you go on a trip like that, it brings your team together. Even, if you lose, unity is there.”
The Royals’ Quaran McPherson believes his team has picked up its level of play since the road trip.
“Everybody’s doing their job,” he said. “Moussa is blocking every shot; Kofi is rebounding and taking charges; Tyson is doing his job as a point guard; Me and Ryan are coming in and doing the little things — impact steals, rebounds, blocks — whatever we got to do to get the win.”
“I think everybody understands their roles and if everybody does their job it is much easier for us to win,” McPherson continued. “Everybody does not have to go out and try to score 20 points a game, if everybody get 10-10-10, get steals, rebounds, we can win still win the game by 40.”
The Royals’ team effort made it difficult for the Knights to find a weakness to exploit. Utilizing their size, strength and speed, the Royals placed pressure on the Holy Cross offense and played stingy defense that prevented the home team from taking a lead. Christ the King used a steady, consistent offense from the opening tip through the fourth quarter to keep the Knights’ at bay.
The Royals made their interior presence known right from the start when Moussa Cisse slammed a thunderous dunk in the middle of a 9-0 run to begin the game. Holy Cross managed to stay in the game, cutting the Royals’ lead to 11-8 midway through the opening quarter. But Christ the King closed the first quarter on an 10-4 run — capped off by a mid-range jumper by Cisse at the buzzer — to take a 21-12 advantage into the second quarter.
The Royals extended their lead to 16 after opening the second with a 10-3 run. Once again, the Knights fought hard to stay in the game, slowing down the Royals’ offense enough to cut their deficit back to 10 at the half.
Both teams traded hoops early in the third, before Christ the King turned up the defensive intensity, following the lead of Ryan Meyers, who blocked three consecutive Holy Cross shots, the third one resulting in a breakaway score for McPherson, which gave Royals their biggest lead of the night at 55-37.
Holy Cross battled in the fourth quarter to cut the Royals’ lead from 18 to seven; but it was too little, too late, as the Christ the King offense went on another late run to secure the 68-55 victory.
“Today was a good test,” said the Knights’ first-year head coach, Eric Brook. “These guys (Holy Cross) are going to be tough and scrappy and they are not going to give up, and that’s what we live by. Technically, did I count this as a W? No. But I tell the kids to go out and play as hard as they can and listen to what we tell them to do. If they go out and execute what we tell them to do, then I am satisfied.”
Cox was pleased with how his team played without their head coach and believes his prior experience with the players came in handy and helped lead the team to victory.
“I’ve coached these guys a lot in the summer and the spring,” Cox said. “I was really happy. ... We played hard and we played well. We are trying to get better each game — that’s our philosophy.”