The odds of a Cardozo victory less than 24 hours after Saturday night’s disheartening defeat in the fourth annual Big Apple Basketball Invitational were not good - Coach Ron Naclerio knew it, just by meeting with his players beforehand.
“I could tell today by talking to them,” the coach said. “They were exhausted from yesterday.”
Naclerio was referring to the hard-fought 69-66 loss to national power Arlington Country Day of Jacksonville, FL, in which they fought back from double-digit deficits throughout and led in the final minute before a late turnover cost them at the end, a game that tipped off at 9:30 p.m.
That they did not have a day to rest, to refocus and regroup, was the challenge. Even greater a task was their opponent - talented Niagara Falls, led by Johnny Flynn, the dynamic Syracuse-bound senior many consider the best guard in New York State.
Flynn and Niagara Falls had their way with Cardozo, routing them 76-58 at Baruch College early Sunday evening. The shifty Flynn lit up the Judges for 23 points and 11 assists and Rahshon Tabb added 25. James Southerland led Cardozo with 20.
Even after being handed their first two losses of the year, not all is lost. The national opponents served more as a guide as to what to strive for than what may be lacking. They are the kind of programs Cardozo could meet come March (See: Brooklyn’s Lincoln and Boys & Girls).
“It was a learning process,” Cardozo guard Trinity Fields said, calling Flynn “the best player we’ve seen this year. … It’s definitely going to help us in the long run.”
As long as they pay attention to their shortcomings, that is. The Judges were blistered on both sides of the glass, out-rebounded 45-37, and turned the ball over 14 times. Although they were off target - the Judges shot 3-of-20 from 3-point range and 31 percent from the field overall - the game’s intangibles is where they were truly lacking. “We’re getting through on talent,” guard J.J. Garvin said. “But today showed we can’t get by on just talent.”
Asked what he learned, Fields said, “boxing out. We’re just going to work hard in practice.”
Naclerio knew it would take the Judges, with a completely new starting lineup outside of Southerland, time to jell. He was not fooled by the lopsided victories against the rest of the borough, the 11-0 league mark. For the demanding coach, a few losses can sometimes work in his favor.
“I always tell the kids you’re never as good as you think you are,” he said. “This is a team that’s winning but the mountain we have to climb to win [a championship] is bigger than they think it is.”