Thanks to a brutal scrimmage schedule, Jack Alesi was already confident his all-guard lineup – the tallest starter is 6-foot-4 senior Rasheem King –could handle a bigger opponent. Sunday’s 47-40 win over Thomas Edison in Big Apple Basketball’s PSAL-CHSAA Challenge at Baruch College in Manhattan just reaffirmed the Clippers’ coach belief.
Against the Inventors, who go 6-foot-7, 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-5 in the frontcourt, Xaverian held its own on the boards and got to the free throw line more than twice as much (29 to 14).
“It was good to see where we’re at,” said King, who scored seven points.
Added Alesi: “We handled their size very well.”
Xaverian (2-0) started its season at home Friday night against Tilden, but Sunday’s meeting with Edison (4-3), Alesi said, kicked off the Clippers campaign for real. After a slow start, the Brooklyn team, which trailed 9-2 early, took over.
The all-guard lineup gave the slower Inventors problems, creating 20 turnovers. They out-scored Edison, 19-3, to end the opening half and 12-3 to start the third quarter. Surprisingly, the Clippers grabbed 18 offensive rebounds, four by guard Denis Yandell, who had 15 boards altogether to go along with 10 points. Junior Jamel Fuentes earned MVP honors with 15 points.
“We can play a variety of different ways,” Alesi said. “We can shoot the ball and we are deep.”
As such, Alesi even benched his starting five when the quintet dug the early hole. They were too excited, the coach told them, so he took them out.
Perhaps more importantly, Xaverian held Edison to single-digit scoring quarters across the first three. The Inventors shot just 23.6 percent from the field. Obviously, the loss of star Isiah Stokley to a gash on top of his head from the middle of the first quarter to late in the third stanza was a crippling blow. He left with Edison leading 9-2 and returned facing a 28-13 deficit.
“We won both full quarters he played,” coach John Ulmer said. “The game would’ve been different with him in there.”
Perhaps, but Ulmer did say that losing the senior guard was no excuse for being stuck on 16 points more than halfway through the non-league affair. Stokley led them with 14 points and Stephen Nwaukoni had 10 and 16 rebounds. Point guard Stephon Hodges was held to five points on 2-of-10 shooting and a team-high six turnovers.
“They didn’t play that great,” Edison assistant coach Rob Diaz said of the Clippers, “but we played much worse.”
Xaverian obviously had a hand in the public school’s struggles. Big men Nwaukoni, Jason Hernandez and Eddie Egharevba couldn’t keep up with the Xaverian guards on the perimeter, getting into foul trouble. The Clippers spread the court, opening up the lane for drives and kick-outs.
“They couldn’t stay with us,” Fuentes said.
Xaverian didn’t press much full-court, but pressured Edison into mistakes. King said he would like to see them come up with more loose balls, particularly since they are so undersized. But for starters, the Clippers passed their first test with flying colors – except for missing 18 free throws, an obvious concern.
“We’re just going to keep on defending, boxing out and keeping the court spaced on offense,” Fuentes said. “I like how we finished the game out. At the end, we got key stops, key steals and made all the tough plays.”
Tough wasn’t the word Ulmer, the Edison coach, used to describe his team’s flat showing. After three consecutive victories, the Inventors were lackadaisical, from the starters to the last man on the bench. They let mistakes linger. Ulmer said his reserves weren’t into it and neither were the Inventors on the court, showing little emotion or intensity, a previous problem.
“These guys got to learn to come out focused every game,” Ulmer said. “They always fight hard at the end. I don’t understand why they can’t play like that the whole game.”