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St. Ray’s in uplifting loss

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If an entire season could be encapsulated in 32 minutes of basketball, this was it for the St. Raymond’s boys’ basketball team. Periods of highs, moments of lows, reasons for optimism followed by the harsh thud of reality.

It was all there in the young Ravens’ disappointing, while somehow still uplifting, 65-58 loss to rival Rice in the CHSAA New York Archdiocesan title game Saturday afternoon at Mount St. Michael HS in the Bronx.

Coach Oliver Antigua knew it would be a season of learning since last summer, when rising seniors Omari Lawrence (who was in attendance) and Kevin Parrom transferred to the South Kent School, a prep school in Connecticut.

St. Ray’s (17-9) has relied on one senior – point guard Tyreak Johnson – and a bevy of underclassmen, players brimming with potential but inexperience such as Sidiki Johnson, Jose Rodriguez, and Nkereuwem Okoro.

Every mini winning streak was followed by a disappointing defeat. Both characteristics of St. Raymond’s were on display against Rice (20-3).

St. Ray’s got off to a slow start, falling behind 20-9 in the first half. The same players that had been smothered early built a nine-point lead by the end of the third quarter. That group also collapsed in the final quarter, out-scored 29-14 across the last eight minutes, failing to snap the Raiders string of what is now four Archdiocese titles.

“This is another lesson we to learn,” Antigua said, later adding: “We had the best team in the city on the ropes. We just have to finish them off.”

Antigua pointed to six key missed free throws – by Sidiki Johnson, McBride, Rodriguez and Kareem Bernard – that prevented the Ravens from building on their lead. If they had made those, the shots Rice started to knock down wouldn’t have done as much damage. St. Ray’s, who was a dismal 23-of-35 from the charity stripe altogether, also didn’t handle the Raiders’ pressure well.

Instead of slowing down – as they had done to take the lead – the Bronx school sped up, which resulted in turnovers and fastbreak opportunities for Rice, one of the Harlem school’s greatest strengths.

“It was multiple breakdowns,” said Tyreak Johnson, who scored a game-high 19 points. “We have to maintain our composure under pressure.”

Sidiki Johnson was the best player on the court for three quarters, scoring all 14 of his points in that time. He added 12 rebounds and three blocks. Yet, just like his teammates, he was invisible in the penultimate stanza, blanked on the scoreboard before fouling out down the stretch.

After getting big men Kadeem Jack and Richard Council in foul trouble, Rice coach Hicks called upon star guard Durand Scott to take on the physically punishing 6-foot-7 center. He has done much of his damage from the perimeter, using his speed to get past the opposing big men.

“We had to start with him because he was the guy that killing us,” Rice coach Mo Hicks said. “He’s a force.”

“We just have to play a full four quarters, not two, not three,” Sidiki Johnson said. “We competed with one of the top teams in the city. It shows we can beat anyone.”

Updated 5:24 pm, October 21, 2011
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