Lions can’t claw back semifinals game

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The game and the situation were familiar. The ending — not so much.

Xaverian reached the state Federation tournament by hanging close in the fourth quarter and grinding out wins. But the team couldn’t work that magic in a 54–43 loss to Aquinas Institute in the Class AA boys’ basketball semifinals at the Times Union Center in Albany on March 18. Xaverian got within two points with 1:26 to play in the third quarter, igniting hopes of a comeback win — but it failed to capitalize.

“We played a lot of games like this,” Xaverian coach Jack Alesi said. “When we got it a two-point game I said, ‘Okay, we are just going to slush out way through this again,’ but we didn’t.”

Xaverian expended a ton of energy trying to rebound from trailing 17–6 after the first quarter and 29–20 at the half. Alesi credited Aquinas with exposing his team’s lack of outside shooting.

“They challenged us to shoot the ball,” he said.

His club struggled to defend the more physical Aquinas lineup, which features four Division-I football players — including Jamir Jones, who is headed to Notre Dame.

The Lil’ Irish out-rebounded Xaverian 33–17 for the game. The Clippers guarded bigger teams well all season, but Aquinas (24–4) was a different animal.

“They were more physical than us,” senior guard Nyontay Wisseh said. “We usually use our athleticism to get the rebound. Today, it wasn’t working. They just out-rebounded us.”

In the third quarter, the Clippers squad (18–12) got back to the way it played earlier this postseason — when it won its first Catholic High School Athletic Association title since 2005. Defensive stops led to transition baskets a sparked a 13–5 run that got Xaverian as close as 34–32 with 1:26 to go in the quarter, thanks to a three-point play from Brandon Leftwich.

“We thought we would just push the ball — and them — with our legs,” Leftwich said. “We were a little low on legs.”

A layup by Aquinas’ Jason Hawkes at the buzzer set an ominous tone. And David Vito’s consecutive threes were too much for Xaverian to overcome, putting Aquinas up 49–36 with 3:02 left in the game.

Wisseh lead Xaverian with 12 points, and Leftwich had 11. Jalen Pickett tallied 20 points for Aquinas. Hawkes and Vito chipped in nine apiece.

It was a disappointing to a fantastic underdog run as the No. 4-seed from Brooklyn-Queens, but players know the good times will wash away any heartache felt in Albany.

“We know tomorrow morning — or in a couple nights, after we get over the loss — we will think back,” Leftwich said. “We are city champions. We had a great season and have a lot to think about. At the end of the day, I’m still getting a ring.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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