Through the first two weeks of the 2019-20 Public School Athletic League basketball season, the Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy boys basketball team had the look of a legitimate title contender.
We’re not just talking division title here, but the entire PSAL B Division.
The Tigers jumped out to a 4-1 start with their most impressive victory coming in a 100-96 overtime win on the road at Albert Tuitt, the defending Bronx B-1 Division champions. That was a game that saw RKA senior Kai Parris post 49 points and 21 rebounds in the win. The sky, it appeared, was the limit for these Tigers.
But after a narrow road loss at Jane Addams put the brakes to the good times at RKA, the Tigers looked to get back on track when they hosted South Bronx, a team that came into the game toting just a 1-4 record. The good times were about to start rolling once again, no?
Despite being a half-hour late for the game and having limited time to warm up, South Bronx jumped all over the Tigers from the start, opening a 15-point lead after the first quarter, and the Phoenix never looked back, hanging an 80-60 defeat on RKA to drop the Tigers record to 4-3. It was not at all how Parris and the Tigers saw this contest playing out.
“It was really frustrating,” said Parris, the gifted senior who finished with 22 points. “I mean, it’s not like the teams we’re playing are bad. But it is frustrating that we’re going through this tough time.”
The Phoenix led from the opening tip, but when Parris completed a three-point play with 3:25 in the opening quarter, the Tigers trailed just 18-14 and the packed house at RKA started to up the decibel level a notch or two. But the gym quickly grew quiet as South Bronx embarked on an 11-0 run to close out the period and take a 29-14 lead into the second quarter.
Things didn’t get any better there for the Tigers as South Bronx’ defense constantly harassed Parris while the Phoenix extended their lead to 49-33 at the half.
From there it proved too deep a hole for the Tigers to dig themselves out of and they never got closer than 11 points the rest of the game.
“The lead was too big for us to keep chasing them,” Parris said. “Especially when we started turning the ball over, it’s hard to get back in the game.”
Cole Benack, RKA’s first-year head coach, said it was a case of his Tigers losing their focus and playing fast and loose with the ball.
“At halftime I think we were down around 16 and we got it to within 11 in the second half, but then we just lost our focus,” Benack said. “The turnovers kind of killed our momentum. You just can’t win that way. We got a little chaotic and we wound up turning the ball over a lot. Against Jane Addams, we had 21 turnovers, and in (the South Bronx) game we had 14. It’s a little bit better but still way too many turnovers — and it cost us.”
What Parris would like to see is more offensive contributions from his teammates. While Ethan Bonet (12 points) and Jacques Zoumanigui (11) scored in double figures in the loss to South Bronx, only Shaun Alexander achieved that in the loss to Jane Addams with 10 points. Parris torched Addams with 35.
Some more offensive balance could go a long way toward returning RKA to its winning ways of earlier in the season.
“We had a conversation downstairs talking about that and how we need other teammates to step up on both the offensive and defensive ends,” Parris said. “I can’t do it myself every single game. Other guys have to step up just a little bit more. But we’ll be all right.”
RKA hopes to get everyone back on the same page as the Tigers had three games slated for this week before the Christmas break. It was to begin Dec. 16 at unbeaten South Bronx Prep, and continue at Bronx College Academy on Dec. 18, before closing out the week at home against Health Opportunities on Dec. 20.
A trio of games to maybe get the Tigers back to their winning ways.
“That’s the goal,” Parris said. “We want to get those wins, and we need to get those wins just to get back on track. But we’re just going to take it on game at a time.”