Holy Cross halts Wildcat rally

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2011



NEW ORLEANS — A feverish East St. John comeback fell just short at Holy Cross Thursday night, as the host Tigers broke the Wildcats’ undefeated run to begin the season, taking a 55-51 victory in the quarterfinals of the annual CYO tournament.

“They shot from the foul line extremely well, protected the ball … getting behind against a team like that, on the road, it’s a tough situation,” said East St. John coach Yussef Jasmine. “We made a couple of mistakes on our end … it was just a tough one.”

The Wildcats defeated St. Thomas Aquinas in the first round of the tournament, 50-41, behind a balanced scoring effort led by Joseph Williams’ nine points.

Holy Cross (3-0) led by as many as 12 points in Thursday’s fourth quarter and held a 48-40 lead with just over three minutes left. Jalen Kenner popped a 3-pointer to cut the lead to five. East St. John’s full court pressure then forced an errant pass that was tipped out of bounds; a jumpball was called, as it was not clear who the ball went out off of. The arrow went ESJ’s way and Wildcats’ big man Elex Carter drew a foul and sank two free throws with 2:58 left.

The Wildcats (5-1) nearly came away with another possession, but a steal led to a turnover with 2:53 left, and Holy Cross got another trip to the line and foul shot by Wesley Pinera, who made it 49-45.

But Kenner answered immediately, his pull up 3 making it a one point game with 2:41 left.

Pinera drove and found Chris Kennie for an open layup to extend the lead to 3, but Louis Williams drew another foul and hit two free throws at the other end. With 1:26 left, Joseph Williams hauled in a steal after Holy Cross’ Trey Hooper was pressured and lost the ball, and took off the other way, drawing a foul. He made one of two, the first rattling in, the other rattling out, to tie the game at 51.

But Kennie put in another bucket underneath at the other end, and then perhaps the game’s pivotal play came with 1:01 remaining: Kenner drove, but was whistled for a charge and the Wildcats’ point guard fouled out of the game.

“That was huge,” said Jasmine. “The hot guy at the time, someone who’s a great team defender and makes everyone else better … that was critical.”

Holy Cross was able to kill the clock against the Wildcats’ halfcourt pressure, and Jordan Brookter drew a foul with 18.7 seconds left. He sank two free throws. Joseph Williams came up empty on a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left, and Holy Cross ran it out from there.

“We’ve got a veteran club,” said Holy Cross coach Juan Lumas, who led the Tigers to the Class 3A state semifinals last season. “They don’t panic when they’re facing adversity. I get nervous, they don’t … I do know that East St. John … that’s a dangerous team in 5A. I wouldn’t want to face them down the line.”

Joseph Williams led ESJ with 17 points. Kenner finished with 13 to go along with three steals. Carter tallied eight points and nine rebounds.

Darrin James led Holy Cross with 14 points. Brookter added 12.

Jasmine said that the loss could carry an important lesson to his team.

“Facing adversity, on the road, you have to push through. There’s no time to be tired. You’ve got to step up,” he said.

Wednesday’s win over STA, eight Wildcats scored four points or more. Louis Williams, Kenner and Victor each scored seven to follow Joseph Williams’ high mark.