Had Stepinac beaten Iona Prep two weeks ago, it would’ve sent shockwaves through the CHSAA. Now, with arguably Iona’s two best players sidelined and the Gaels’ season compromised, Stepinac may’ve entered Friday night as the favorite.
The Crusaders didn’t care about the status of their rival. They just needed a win. They accomplished that, beating Iona Prep 57-45 behind 21 points and nine rebounds from senior Walter King and 12 points and eight assists from senior Naim Thomas.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Thomas said. “And we needed that.”
Two of the area’s most coveted recruits, Iona’s 6-foot-6 junior Matt Ryan and 6-3 sophomore Ty Jerome, were in street clothes. Ryan is lost for the season and Jerome for a month or more.
Ryan has a torn labrum in his right hip that will require surgery and, he expects, will force him to miss the spring and summer AAU season. He had an MRI on the left hip Friday as well.
He doesn’t expect the injuries to hurt his recruitment, which has included interest from the likes of Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky.
“I feel like I’m going to come back better,” Ryan said. “Every time I jumped, it would affect me.”
The absence of Ryan and Jerome was clear. King’s 3 at the buzzer gave Stepinac (6-11) a 28-18 halftime lead that was stretched to as many as 17 in the second half.
“Every time it’s Stepinac vs. Iona, it’s always a big game and even though Matt and Ty were out, it was still a big game,” King said. “Everyone just played hard.”
King and junior Tommy Cola (13 points) were the beneficiaries of Thomas’ passing, but the Crusaders shared the ball effectively as a whole. They assisted on 13 baskets and committed just three turnovers.
Junior Tom Capuano (21 points) was the only Iona Prep (9-7) player in double figures, but Stepinac wasn’t giving back the win.
“Any game in this league is tough, every team in this league is tough,” first-year coach Steve Herman said. “We’ve been waiting all season to put together a little string. We’ve won three out of four. Hopefully, we can get hot going down the stretch.”