Christ the King point guard Malik Harmon wasn’t pleased to sit on the bench for the entire first half after picking up two early fouls in the first quarter.
Knowing the Royals were shorthanded for a tough visit to Cardinal Hayes in the CHSAA Class AA season opener, Harmon made a vow in the Royals locker room at halftime to make an impact in the second half.
Harmon stayed on the floor to deliver for the Royals by making two clutch free throws with 5.2 seconds left in regulation. Christ the King scrambled back from a double-digit deficit to win 71-70 over Cardinal Hayes in The Bronx Tuesday afternoon.
Harmon scored all of his 13 points in the second half, but nothing was more pressure-filled than knocking down two free throws after being fouled by Hayes guard Chris Robinson, he said. The game-winning points were only the second time Christ the King led in the game.
“It meant everything to me to hit those shots. I’m not usually in that type of position,” Harmon said. “I was nervous at first but after the first free throw, I knew I was knocking that second one down.
Shooting guard Jon Severe led Christ the King with 33 points, and Royals coach Joe Arbitello credited his team for showing mental toughness to come back against a Cardinals team he regards as a city championship contender.
A host of players off the bench stepped up for Christ the King, which was without junior guard Andre Walker (sprained ankle) and James Coleman (knee). Despite trailing by as many as 10 points midway through the third quarter, Christ the King kept its cool.
“It was about us keeping our heads and playing 32 minutes of basketball. Letting nothing rattle us,” Arbitello said. “And that’s why I think we’re good this year because we’re a veteran team. They’re going to play 32 minutes. We can be down 15 points at one point and we’re not going into the tank.”
The small three-guard alignment for Cardinal Hayes was instrumental in extending a 33-30 lead at halftime. Shavar Newkirk, who led the Cardinals with 21 points, and Chris Robinson (20 points) were able to penetrate to the basket and get past the larger Royals frontline of 6-foot-6 Jordan Fuchs and 6-foot-10 Adonis Delarosa.
The Royals were not out of the game because of the lightning quick scoring from the 6-foot-2 Severe, who hit a number of big shots to keep his team within striking distance. Severe, who has offers from George Washington, Rhode Island and Duquesne, knocked down a clutch 3-pointer with 3:12 left in the fourth quarter to cut the Cardinal Hayes lead to 63-61.
Severe has accepted the challenge from Arbitello to be a leader, and not just a scorer this season. It’s a role that he is taking head on, but he is also happy with the role of being a playmaker for the benefit of his team.
Shooting guard Isaiah Colbert hit a big 3-pointer for the Royals to cut the deficit to 69-68 with 1:39 remaining. After Harmon made the two clutch free throws, Wilson was cut off just after midcourt by sophomore forward Travis Atson on the final play, forcing a long-distance shot by Robinson that hit off the backboard at the final buzzer.
“I know I couldn’t win by myself,” Severe said. “We want to win. It’s our senior year. It had to be a role player and Travis made a good play. We’re a deep team and everybody keeps saying it’s my team, it’s our team. We can’t win with just one player. It showed last year. We had to win as a team.”
Cardinal Hayes played hard until the final buzzer, but the narrowest of margins for the loss came by missing four free throws in the last quarter. Cardinals coach Joe Lods said his team will be ready to bounce back Friday in a big game at Bishop Loughlin.
“We’re not looking for easy games. I want to teach my kids to fight,” Lods said. “They fight. We don’t look for anything easy and we earned the win for 31 minutes and 55 seconds, and then we realized how fragile everything is, how fragile a lead is.”