By Zachary Braziller
Jack Curran is enamored with Russ Smith. The legendary Archbishop Molloy boys’ basketball coach appreciates everything about the talented lead guard.
Well, almost everything.
He spent much of the first half chewing out Smith for lackadaisical defense and impatience on the offensive end.
“He expects a lot from me,” Smith said after scoring 40 points in the Stanners’ 85-79 overtime win over St. Raymond’s Tuesday night at Jack Curran Gymnasium in Queens. “I can’t be mad at him. He’s had great players like Kenny Anderson, Kenny Smith and (Sundiata Gaines). He knows what it takes.”
The harsh words paid off in overtime.
Smith, who also had seven rebounds and three assists, forced guard Jatone Pierce-Bias into a turnover by picking him up full court. He then waited for the ensuing play on offense to develop – as Curran had requested – before driving baseline for the eventual go-ahead layup with less than a minute remaining. He added two free throws later on to seal Molloy’s second consecutive league win.
“He’s just so good,” Curran said of Smith, who had 29 points after halftime and shot 13-of-25 from the field altogether. “When he’s in the flow, you have to give him the ball.”
Fellow senior Ryan Dillon was pretty good, too. He scored 25 points and had five 3-pointers, including 18 points in the first half to make up for Smith’s early lack of production. Forward LeBrandon Smith added 12 points and seven rebounds.
“In warm-ups, the way I was shooting, I didn’t feel too jittery,” Dillon said.
Nerves, however, spread through the entire gym for much of the fourth quarter after St. Ray’s (14-9, 7-3 CHSAA ‘AA’) erased a 10-point, second-quarter deficit by pounding the ball inside to 6-foot-8 center Sidiki Johnson (nine points, 12 rebounds). When the Stanners (14-7, 6-6) doubled down on the sophomore big man, guards Tyreak Johnson (14 points), Harold McBride (13) and Nkeruwem Okoro (13) made them pay, hitting open jumpers or slashing to the hoop.
Tyreak Johnson capped a 13-5 run near the end of the third quarter with five consecutive points, getting the Ravens even at 57. The lead switched hands several times over the final quarter. St. Ray’s got its first lead since the opening quarter early in the last stanza when Tyreak Johnson buried a 3-pointer from the left wing with 7:00 remaining.
Smith, though, answered with six consecutive points, including one 3-pointer in which he nearly jack hammered himself into the ground with a series of extraneous crossovers. He eventually found his balance and drilled a step back jumper.
“He hits some crazy shots,” Dillon said.
“It’s composure,” Smith added. “When most guys are under pressure like that they look to pass. I see what’s there.”
St. Ray’s seemed to be in the driver’s seat early in overtime. Molloy center Jin Hong fouled out 13 seconds into the extra session, leaving Sidiki Johnson free to roam the paint. Except, after Tyreak Johnson fouled out, too, the Ravens’ lost the sure-handed guard to get him the ball. Big man LeBrandon Smith successfully fronted his Ravens counterpart.
“The guards played good defense,” Curran said.
Thanks to Russ Smith’s recent heroics – he scored a career-high 47 points in last Friday’s 86-50 victory over St. Francis Prep – the Stanners are closing in on the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan playoffs.
A win Friday over Holy Cross on Senior Night guarantees the spot, which would set up an opening-round game against the Terriers and will allow Molloy to avoid borough power and top seed Christ the King until the final.
“Once we start to get our confidence going,” Dillon said, “we can beat anyone as long as we play together.”