Winning the school’s first boys basketball city title in more than 20 years during a season where the school was in danger of closing didn’t mean as much to Nazareth as this year’s championship.
This one didn’t come as easy as the Kingsmen’s Catholic Class B crown last year. Nazareth moved up a division and played competitive games every time out, none tougher than its 46–41 win over Cardinal Spellman in the Class A title game on Friday night at Fordham University.
Last year they were expected to win. This time they prevailed amongst a group of favorites. It was the school’s first Class A title since it won consecutive crowns in 1988 and 1989.
“In the ‘A’ division you have to compete every night” senior guard Naquan Chandler said. “We are happy that we did it this year, moving up from ‘B’ to ‘A.’ That’s an accomplishment.”
Spellman put the outcome in doubt in the closing minutes behind sharpshooter Domenic Arena, who scored a game-high 21-points. The Pilots (20-5) trimmed Nazareth’s 11-point third-quarter lead to just 39–38 with 2:37 left in the game.
Arena had a potential go-ahead 3-pointer rim out and Kingsmen’s star Samson Usilo (14 points) provided the response his team was looking for. The athletic junior came off a screen, rose up high above the defense and put in a floater from the left elbow. Usilo knew he couldn’t afford to miss.
“I took it with my whole life,” he said Usilo. “I said, ‘Now this must go in.’ ”
The basket was the first of six straight points for Nazareth (22–5). The spurt allowed it to open up a 45–38 lead with 1:13 left in the game. Arena hit his fourth 3-pointer, but Spellman got no closer than six despite the Kingsmen shooting just 4-for-13 from the line in the fourth quarter.
Samson Akilo scored 12 points for Nazareth. Daniel Bousejour added six points and forced numerous turnovers on defense. The Kingsmen next face the Chaminade-Holy Trinity winner March 9 at a time to be determined at Fordham. Nazareth will enjoy this title until then.
“This beats last year man,” Kingsmen coach Todd Jamison said. “The kids worked so hard.”Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at jstaszewsk