RJ Davis stood on the free throw line in the important moments of a high-octane semifinal playoff game with only one purpose. The rising sound of the crowd, the scoreboard and other factors never played a role in what Davis had to do for Archbishop Stepinac on Thursday night.
“It’s what I do every day in practice,” Davis said. “Working at the free throw line under pressure so it was just easy for me when the game is on the line.”
Davis sank six consecutive free throws in the final 22.3 seconds of regulation and the sophomore guard delivered by scoring 18 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter to clinch Stepinac’s trip to the CHSAA Class AA Intersectional championship game in an 88-84 victory over Archbishop Molloy at St. John’s University in Queens.
The victory also proved to be a game of redemption that Davis and his team could not ignore. The Crusaders heartbreakingly fell to Molloy, 70-69, in the city semifinals a year ago at Carnesecca Arena, but the White Plains school had an an extra year of experience and plenty of motivation this time around.
“We wanted to redeem ourselves from last year’s loss. We all remember that feeling in the locker room,” Davis said. “To come out and win out here means a lot for us.”
Stepinac (24-5) executed under the pressure to advance to Sunday’s city championship game at 3 p.m. against Christ the King at Fordham University. Illinois commit Alan Griffin added 31 points as the Crusaders will attempt to earn the Class AA Intersectional final since winning way back in 1960.
It was an entertaining first half of basketball as the teams traded baskets. RJ Davis was knocked to the ground yet hit an acrobatic basket for a 3-point play late in the first quarter for Stepinac. Moses Brown answered with nine points early on for Molloy to level the game at 16 all at the end of the first quarter.
In a game of numerous tied and lead changes, Molloy almost had the chance too wrest momentum at the end of the second quarter after Khalid Moore (27 points) hit a three-point play with 10.9 left to increase their lead to five points.
But Griffin answered once again with a fall away three-pointer at the buzzer for Stepinac to cut the deficit to 38-36 at halftime. That provided the impetus and spark for the Crusaders according to Massaroni to respond going out of the locker room to start the second half.
Alan Griffin’s younger brother, the 6-4 freshman AJ Griffin Jr., used his energy and long wingspan as a valuable contributor inside the paint in the fourth quarter. Even with the 7-1 Brown nearby, Griffin Jr. (17 points, 9 rebounds) leaped for a tip-in to give Stepinac its largest lead at 80-73 with under two minutes to play in regulation.
But it wasn’t over yet as Molloy threatened once again with it’s talented trio. Georgia Tech commit Khalid Moore powered the Stanners with 27 points along with Cole Anthony scoring 26 points and 10 rebounds. Molloy’s UCLA bound 7-foot center Moses Brown battled through foul trouble to finish with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
The Crusaders made some key defensive stops and the biggest one came up 84-81 when Griffin denied Anthony, the junior point guard, a chance to get open to hit the game-tying three-point attempt. Moore missed a 3-pointer with 9 seconds left as Stepinac answered on the other end with Davis sinking two free throws.
Sunday’s meeting for the Archdiocesan title winners Stepinac is the first this year against the Brooklyn/Queens diocesan champions Christ the King. Massaroni knows his guys will be ready for the test.
“I trust my guys. RJ has been big time on the free throw line,” Massaroni said. “ Trust any of those five guys on the floor. They wanted the ball, Alan, AJ, X [Xavier Wilson], Eddie [Sanchez] and RJ was there and made some big ones.”