RJ Davis grew up just a few miles from the Westchester County Center and the dream of playing at the fabled venue was finally realized on Friday night.
The Stepinac sophomore guard made his mark in a fierce rivalry by hitting some clutch baskets to finish with 26 points and help the Crusaders outlast Iona Prep for a 82-78 CHSAA Class AA boys basketball victory held in front of an sellout crowd of 3,219 in White Plains.
“It was definitely a great feeling. The atmosphere was just so much the crowd was into it. The players was into it,” Davis said. “Just to feel that energy wants to keep you going. And keep on playing and that’s what we did today.”
Davis along with teammate Alan Griffin each scored 26 points as Stepinac (7-2, 3-2 league) increased its winning streak to five games following last week’s Torrey Pines Classic national title win in California. It was classic encounter with twists, turns and plenty of big plays displayed by both sides as the Crusaders pulled out an emotional win.
“It’s awesome. I never expected like that. It’s a great rivalry and turned out great for us,” Davis said. “We just had to keep our heads and we did. We just stayed calm and just kept playing.”
The longtime rivalry added a new twist with Stepinac, Iona and the county working since the summer to move a previously scheduled home game to the County Center with great results. It was part of a boys basketball doubleheader with Skylar Sinon recording a game-high 25 points to lead Byram Hills over Ardsley, 51-34, in the opening matchup.
“They said what did you think if we get 1,500 and that was back in the summer that would be a great crowd,” Stepinac head coach Pat Massaroni said. “To go into double overtime, I don’t think your going to see a basketball game like that the rest of the year. It was a lot of work and it was rewarding.”
Back and forth action made the game quite an entertaining and tight contest with Stepinac and Iona Prep only extending its leads to as much as five points throughout.
Iona Prep (7-3, 5-1 league) took advantage of its size in the first quarter with 6-9 Souleymane Koureissi, who scored a team high 25 points, along with 6-8 Josh Alexander (16 points) aiding the team’s 17-16 first quarter lead.
Alan Griffin got fired up in the second quarter by finishing with 13 first half points to give Stepinac a 34-33 advantage going into the locker room.
The game remained close going into the fourth quarter. Crusaders freshman guard Adrian Griffin Jr. (14 points) impressed coming off the bench with 14 points and playing tough defense helped Stepinac regain a 61-60 lead with two free throws at the 3:43 mark of the fourth quarter.
Davis hit a tough floater falling out of bounds on the right side with the shot clock wining down with 1:01 remaining in regulation for a Stepinac 67-64 lead. Iona Prep would not go away as Romar Reid connected on a three-pointer with 32 seconds left to tie the game and eventually force the first overtime.
Stepinac had another chance to seal the game after Davis made another acrobatic drive in the middle of the lane for a bucket to make it a 3-point lead with 17 seconds remaining.
But Iona continued to battle and got back possession with 3.3 seconds left following an offensive foul committed by Stepinac. The Richmond bound Koureissi somehow got off a shot next to two Crusader defenders in the left corner for a 3-pointer as time expired in the second overtime at 67-all.
But the Crusaders continued to display grit and determination to come out on top. Alan Griffin scored consecutive baskets, including a three-pointer with 43 seconds in the second overtime to give the Crusaders the lead for good at 79-78. AJ Griffin converted 3 out of 4 clutch free throws and the team’s defense lead by Xavier Wilson shutout the Gaels in the final 57 seconds of the second overtime.
Davis and his teammates will celebrate until gathering on Sunday at 4:15 p.m. for another tough matchup against highly ranked Long Island Lutheran in the Apparel Challenge held at Christ the King High School.
“We was talking about how a big of win and we had to win. A loss would have left a bad taste in our mouths,” Davis said. “Coming out in this big venue and this big atmosphere and winning means a lot.”