NEW YORK – A sloppy third quarter could have caused doubt for Kennedy Catholic in Tuesday’s CHSAA A semifinal, but it only served to re-ignite the Gaels.
Rather than fold, the defending champs responded with a steady performance in the fourth quarter for a 60-50 win over pesky Nazareth.
Kennedy will go for the repeat on Friday at 8 p.m. against Monsignor Farrell at Fordham University.
“We just came together as a team because staying together is the most important thing to get through stuff like that,” forward Malachai de Sousa said. “We had to talk about what they were doing, and coach Al (Morales) did a good job of drawing up a play to help break the trap.”
The Gaels looked strong in the first quarter and jumped out to a 21-12 lead, but their offense stalled with 21 points combined in the next two quarters.
“When they started to trap, we had a little bit of trouble,” center Kevin Buron said. “But at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter, we started to get used to it and pass the ball better. That lowered the turnovers and I think that’s what got us the 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.”
Kennedy was considered a heavy favorite against sub-.500 Nazareth, but the Gaels were expecting a difficult test.
They had defeated the Kingsmen twice during the regular season on their way to a perfect 16-0 mark in league play, but they saw the improvements. Their first meeting was a 29-point blowout, while the second game came down to the wire.
“They’re definitely a way better team than their record indicates,” de Sousa said. “They’re scrappy, they play all 32 minutes hard and they never go away. They never quit.”
Player of the game: Malachai de Sousa, Kennedy – The 6-foot-5 junior showed the type of versatility that should make him very attractive to college coaches. He was a force on the glass, but also showed the ability to stretch the floor with a couple of big 3-pointers. He finished with 24 points and nine rebounds.
“Wherever I get the ball, I’m always in attack mode,” de Sousa said.
Turning point: Kennedy led just 42-37 heading into the fourth quarter, but a few baskets from de Sousa and Alex Benson, plus some clutch free-throw shooting, helped the Gaels pull away.
“That was definitely a big part of the game because normally we don’t really take advantage of the free throws,” de Sousa said. “Today, it was big because we knew that they would foul so much.”
Stat line: Kennedy (24-2) – De Sousa led the way with 24 points and nine rebounds and Buron added 11 points and eight rebounds. Benson had nine points, while Jordan Wright and Henry O’Reilly had six apiece. Nazareth (12-14) – Japheth Chambers and Michael Pollard led the Kingsmen with 12 points each, while Kobe Telford added 11.
Quotable: “This is playoff time, and during playoff time you know it’s one-and-done,” Buron said. “We knew that they were going to come out and play as hard as they could, so they were a challenge.”