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Pierce’s outburst leads Kennedy past W. 50th Street

Jeffrey Short’s meteoric rise has drawn so much attention from the opposition, it has created opportunities for Naquan Pierce, Kennedy’s leading scorer last year.

But that isn’t always a good thing.

“Sometimes I’m so wide open, I miss,” the senior point guard joked. “I’m used to working for my shots, taking them off the dribble.”

Fortunately for the Knights, that wasn’t problem in the second half of Friday’s 86-64 home victory over previously undefeated West 50th Street Campus.

Pierce scored 18 of his 25 points after the break, including four 3-pointers, to lead JFK to its seventh win in as many tries. Short scored a game-high 36 points, but 24 of those came in the first half. The Seahawks made a concerted effort to shut him down, leaving Pierce wide open. He had eight straight points – including consecutive 3-pointers – as part of a 10-1 third-quarter run that gave Kennedy a 62-45 lead that never returned to single digits.

“For some reason, they are forgetting Naquan,” coach Johnny Mathis said. “A lot of teams are trying to focus on Jeff, but [Naquan] is still a top scorer. It’s pick your poison.”

West 50th Street picked the wrong one, and, as a result, suffered its first league loss. The Seahawks upset Wadleigh last week and entered the test 4-0 in Manhattan AA. They got off to a quick start, leading by one after one quarter, behind the play of guards Yunis Hopkinson (19 points) and Craig Anderson (17) and center Chris Fernandez (13). But they trailed by double figures virtually the entire second half.

Struggling with his shot, Pierce scored just seven points in the first half. He was content to watch Short light it up from the perimeter and get others involved. But at halftime, with Kennedy leading by just five, his running mate pulled him aside with advice.

“If we’re gonna win, you have to shoot the ball,” Short told him.

Pierce obliged, taking advantage of the extra room he was given when Short was harassed by constant double teams. But the difference, Mathis said, was his team’s intensity after intermission. Kennedy rebounded better and challenged every shot by West 50th Street.

“We realized we had a ball game on our hands,” the longtime coach said.

Pierce and Short have carried JFK (7-0, 6-0 Bronx AA) thus far, averaging a combined 48 points per game in league play. They have begun to receive help. Small forward Epi Montero scored 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. In Thursday’s win, improving sharpshooter John Mercedes scored 13 points before injuring his back, which held him of action on Friday. Forwards Muhammed Ahmed (seven points) and Badih Mcqueens (10 rebounds) have also shown promise, which will be important for the Bronx power come playoff time.

“We’re building their confidence, telling them to shoot more,” said Pierce, who also had seven assists and three steals. “The more scorers the better – the less pressure on me and Jeff.”

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