Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Walker, Salnave Lift Cardozo to Last-Second Win Over Christ the King
If next Saturday’s potential Christ the King-Cardozo SNY Invitational final is anything like Friday’s game between the two Queens schools, fans are in for an all-time classic.
NEW YORK — If next Saturday’s potential Christ the King-Cardozo SNY Invitational final is anything like Friday’s game between the two Queens schools, fans are in for an all-time classic.
A buzzer beating alley-oop layup from Monmouth signee Ray Salnave to senior Aaron Walker gave the Judges a 67-65 victory over the Royals at Christ the King on Friday night, capping off a wild game that saw six lead changes in the final four minutes alone.
Christ the King (18-1), which lost its first game of the season on Tuesday to Queens HIgh School of Teaching, was ranked No. 19 in the nation this week by USA Today. They are also the reigning SNY Invitational champions.
“In the huddle, coach [Ron Naclerio] was asking everyone who’s guarding you,” Walker said after his teammates doused him with bottles of water. “The shortest guy was guarding me and I’m pretty athletic. He told him to put it up there and for me to get it.”
With five seconds left and the game tied at 65, Salnave stole the ball from Tyson Walker and sprinted down the court. He was stripped as he attempted a layup to beat the final horn, but the officials put one second back on the clock, setting up his baseline inbounds pass to his teammate.
Aaron Walker penetrated from the left wing, soared over Christ the King’s Tracy Cleckley and tipped the ball in with his right hand, sending the Judges bench and cheerleading squad storming onto the court to celebrate.
“I told him I wanted the shot,” Salnave said of Naclerio’s drawing up the winning play. “But he knew if I was on the court for the last play, they would have denied me as best they could. They didn’t know what to expect.
“I said it’s time to show that you’re the best defender in the city and one of the top players in the city,” he said of Walker. “And tonight he proved it. That play requires mental toughness, but he stayed focused and made sure he followed through.”
As Cardozo celebrated, a stunned Royals team (10-6) slowly trudged to the locker room while coach Joe Arbitello followed the referees off the court, screaming at them for a few moments.
Neither Arbitello nor any member of Christ the King spoke to the media afterward.
Twice the Royals held a one-point lead in the final minute, but a Salnave layup with 36 seconds left gave Cardozo a brief 64-63 lead while a free throw from the senior with 10 seconds left tied the contest at 65.
The future Monmouth Hawk led all scorers with 23 points while Walker, who holds offers from Manhattan and Fordam, and fellow guard DeJavaughn Utley both contributed 18 points in the victory.
“We have a lot of pieces,” Naclerio said. “Imagine if Ray, Aaron and Tareq Coburn are all on at the same time, which hasn’t happened yet.”
Rising prospect Jose Alvarado struggled for Christ the King, as the junior guard with offers from St. John’s, Indiana and others scored just 10 points in the defeat. The NY Rens star was mired in foul trouble and spent portions of the second half nursing an apparent minor left leg injury.
Unsung senior guard Jared Rivers did the heavy lifting for the Royals, however, as the sharpshooter scored a team-high 22 points, including 12 in the second half.
Should Cardozo beat Mount Vernon and Christ the King top Brentwood in the semifinals of the SNY Invitational on Friday at City College, the Judges and Royals will square off in the tournament final at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
It’s a game between two Queens powerhouses that both Naclerio and Salnave are hoping to take part in for the second time in eight days.
“I hope we’re good enough to beat Mount Vernon and I’d like to see Christ the King again,” Naclerio said. “I think it’s great for New York City basketball.”
“It brings out the best in us every time we play them,” Salnave added. “I want to play them as much as we can to prove that we belong.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.