Things weren’t going according to plan for Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy against American Studies last week.
The Tigers had come into the contest with an 11-2 mark atop the Bronx B-1 Division, and had designs on locking up that division title with a win against a six-win Senators team. But on this particular night, the offense just wasn’t materializing.
So at halftime, RKA head coach John Reingold switched things up on defense. That almost instantly transformed the Tigers from the sluggish group they were in the first half into the more familiar up-tempo squad that can pile up points in a hurry.
The strategy led to a dominating second-half for the Tigers, scoring 41 points in the final two quarters to roll to a 65-48 victory.
“We made a defensive adjustment and went with a triangle and two” defense, Reingold said. “That made them go away from their strengths, and then they tried to force things. The few buckets they made, I was OK with that. But we got out in transition a little bit and we got going.”
Jaiden Lewis certainly got it going for RKA.
The Tigers were holding a slim three-point lead at halftime before Lewis went to work. RKA’s senior guard knocked down four three-pointers in the third quarter, when he alone outscored the Senators 12-10. Lewis added a fifth three-ball to open the fourth as the Tigers built a 49-31 lead.
Lewis finished with a game-high 21 points. “I had confidence in my shot and they were just dropping for me,” he said.
Senior guard Will Feldman, who shares the Tigers’ backcourt with Lewis, said when his teammate is locked in, it’s best just to get out of his way.
“He’s a really good shooter,” said Feldman, who logged 10 assists feeding Lewis.
“When he gets hot, I’m giving him the rock every time. He shoots it and I’ll take the assists. I’m fine with that as long as we win.”
The victory not only locked up the division crown for RKA, but it also gave Reingold a chance to witness the latest improvements in Justin Quinn’s game. Quinn, the 6-foot-7 senior who has played just a couple of years of organized basketball, scored 14 points, pulled down 15 rebounds, and blocked seven shots in the victory.
“He was better today,” Reingold said. “He was much more sure-handed. That was a tough team. They strip, they grab, they bump and he held his own. He did OK. I thought this was one of his better games. Considering we’re light as a rebounding team, he has to bear most of the load.”
Quinn’s inspired play also caught the attention of Lewis and Feldman.
“That’s how we need him to play every game,” Lewis said. He’s been improving every practice and every game.”
“He played like a beast,” Feldman said. “Rebounding, blocking shots, dunking the ball. If we want to make a deep playoff run, we’re really going to need him. And he’s just getting better and better. He’s finding out what he has to do and where he needs to be, and that’s really important for a big man.”
Despite the victory, Reingold was unimpressed with his team’s play.
“It was sloppy,” Reingold said. “It was very sloppy. I thought our guard play was sloppy. We have to clean that up.”
After another division win last Friday — a 58-56 victory over IN-Tech — it leaves RKA, now 13-2, with precious few games to fine-tune things. The Public School Athletic League regular-season ends this week, and the citywide playoffs are not set to tip off until the end of the month..
But the Tigers are not concerned. They have captured their first goal — winning the division — and now have their focus turned to a long playoff run.
“We just came out and did what we had to do,” Lewis said. “This was the goal. Now everything is falling into place.”