At one end of the court, James Stukes was hanging by the perimeter and dropping in soft, high-arcing jump shots. On the other end, he was nowhere near the 3-point line, but on the low blocks.
Instead of using his quickness and touch, he was relying on his beefy 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame to fend off Bishop Loughlin power forward Jayvaughn Pinkston. He fronted the 6-foot-7, 230-pound man child of a junior and bodied him in a 70-60 CHSAA Class AA victory, a score that hardly illustrated the uneven match-up, at Gaucho Gym in the Bronx.
The two different roles are nothing new to Stukes, Rice’s workmanlike forward. In fact, if anything is different, it’s his offensive repertoire. His jumpshot and ball handling is much improved. He’s spending less time underneath the hoop.
“I always could shoot,” said Stukes, who scored a game-high 24 points, “I just never showed anybody.”
For years, he has gone up against bigger players. Last seasons, he drew the assignment of Samardo Samuels, then a 6-foot-8 space-eater for St. Benedict’s Prep (N.J.). Samuels now starts at center for the University of Louisville, ranked 12th in the nation.
“That’s what James does,” Rice coach Mo Hicks said. “He rises up to challenges.”
“I don’t care how big the guy is,” Stukes said. “If my coach wants me to do it, I’ll do it.”
His prior experiences helped him limit Pinkston to 11 points, 28 less than he produced in a 77-74 loss to Christ the King Friday night.
“He wasn’t gonna get 30 on us,” Stukes said of Pinkston. “No way. Not against Rice. That’s impossible.”
Durand Scott added 12 points, five rebounds, five steals and five assists and Jonathan Williams had 10 for Rice. Trevon Hamlet had 17 for Loughlin (10-6), which lost its third straight. Antoine Brown chipped in 14 and Branden Frazier 10.
Pinkston blamed himself for his uncharacteristically quiet afternoon. He started the game by taking two jumpshots and was promptly sat by first-year coach Rudy King for not going to his strength. Too often he was on the perimeter and he was called for two offensive fouls and turned the ball over five times.
“I was a little frustrated because I wasn’t getting the ball early,” Pinkston said. “That was my fault. Next game I have to step up.”
He also drew a technical foul for arguing with the officials after he was stripped of the ball in the lane, a common, although usually rare, occurrence against Rice.
“I’ve never seen him complain to the refs,” Stukes said. “Once I saw that, I knew it was over.”
Loughlin has five days to prepare for the rematch against Christ the King in Middle Village. It would behoove them not to turn the ball over 25 times again and to execute offensively.
“We didn’t play at a level we know we can compete at,” King said. “Our ball control was horrible.”
The Lions started extremely slow, falling behind 18-10 midway through the opening quarter. They crawled back into the game, tying the game at 24 on a Pinkston layup. But Rice went on a 13-4 run to end the half and scored eight of the first 10 points of the third quarter to build a 15-point lead.
Rice is now 11-1 and 5-0 in league play despite missing Scott, the Miami-bound forward, for the early part of the season, and still awaiting talented All Hallows transfer Shane Southwell, who Hicks said will be back Jan. 30 and should immediately join the rotation.
The Raiders’ only loss came on Dec. 30, to Findley Prep (NV), ranked 2nd in the nation by USA Today. Many prognosticators had picked Christ the King and Bishop Loughlin as possible favorites to begin the season, yet the Harlem school has beaten each team by a considerable margin.
“This year people slept on our senior class,” Hicks said. “There are guys like Jonathan (Williams) and James and Charles (Fenner) that have stepped up to the plate.”