The Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy boys basketball team has a lot going for it as the regular season enters its final month.
The Tigers are off to a 9-2 start, are poised to lock up a second straight Bronx B-1 division crown in the next few games, and already are a lock for next month’s Public School Athletic League playoff tournament.
But if there was one thing the Tigers would like to change about themselves, it’s their killer instinct. It needs work, and senior guard Will Feldman and the rest of the Tigers know it.
Case in point: The Tigers’ game against Hyde Charter School last week. RKA, which trailed by as many as 11 points in the game’s early stages, had caught and blown by the Lions, holding a commanding 14-point lead late in the third quarter. But within a matter of just six minutes, that double-digit advantage turned into a one-point deficit.
Fortunately for RKA, the Tigers got their defensive act together down the stretch and were able to pull out a 61-57 victory. And while ugly victories win out over pretty losses every time, Feldman knows there is some tweaking needed for this team before the postseason rolls around.
“I think we took our foot off the gas there and slowed the game down,” said Feldman, who posted a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists. “We have to work on just playing our same game throughout the whole game. That’s the thing we have to learn as a team, to keep going. Don’t slow down.”
Actually the Tigers (9-2) began the game in slow motion as well. After RKA’s Jaiden Lewis opened the game with a three-pointer, Hyde scored the next nine points, eventually building a 17-6 lead with two minutes to go in the first quarter. Lewis single-handedly kept the Tigers within striking distance as he scored RKA’s first 14 points and finished the first half with 16 as RKA managed to pull within 30-29 at halftime.
“I was just feeling it, and once you feel it, you get very confident and you don’t miss,” Lewis said. “But I wasn’t expecting them to come out like they did, but I knew we could settle down, come back and get the win. That was probably one of our worst halves of basketball this year. So we knew we just had to pick it up and get back to the way we play basketball.”
The Tigers began to pull away at the start of the second half as Lewis — who else? — scored the first five points of the third quarter to give RKA a 34-30 lead. Once Feldman got into the act, the Tigers lead began to grow further as he dropped in nine of RKA’s next 12 points, and the Tigers’ lead stood at 46-32 with 2:33 left in the third quarter.
But Hyde refused to go quietly.
Led by the torrid shooting by Abdoul Bah — who finished with 23 points — and Amyr Milem, who chipped in 18, the Lions came roaring back to eventually take a 54-53 lead with 4:38 to play. But that’s when the Tigers’ defense stiffened and RKA got two huge contributions from Larell DeJesus and Justin Quinn.
RKA allowed Hyde to score just three points in the final 4:38, and DeJesus’ critical three-pointer with 2:24 to play gave RKA a 58-54 lead, and some much needed breathing room. It was a clutch play from a very unlikely source as it was the only shot DeJesus attempted all game.
“That was a very big shot,” said Lewis, who finished with a team-best 21 points. “He really stepped up there. He wasn’t playing much this season, but now he comes off our bench and he’s a big part of our team.”
“He can shoot,” Feldman said. “I don’t know why he won’t shoot. He’s a good player, a first-year player. But once he gets his confidence up, he’s going to be an even better player and a real key piece for our team down the stretch.”
Hyde pulled within one possession at 60-57 with 1:01 to play, but Quinn — who struggled somewhat from the free throw line — calmly sank a foul shot with 13.8 seconds to play to seal the win for RKA.
“There was a lot of pressure on him, and it was a very big shot,” Lewis said. “That kind of put the nail in the coffin.”
It was a battle, for sure, but one RKA — which also got 20 points from Kai Parris — did not shy away from in the end.
“We just fight whether we’re down 20, up 20 it doesn’t matter,” Feldman said. “That’s the one thing about these guys. We’re all best friends and we like to play basketball together. And we just find a way to win.”