By Matt Capuro
It was a New York rivalry game on the biggest possible stage. While it wasn’t the featured event of the evening, the Jordan Brand All-American Classic was, it was the regional version. The best players from the city and the suburbs were divided into two different colored Jordan Brand uniforms at Madison Square Garden. While the Casual hoops fan might perceive a regional all-star game on the undercard of national contests as a tool to fill seats, but you’d have to be kidding to think the game would be less competitive than the “All-American” contest. In fact, they are probably tougher.
Saturday night, as Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans and the like prepared for their Jordan Classic, New York City and Suburban prep stars like Erving Walker, Ryan Pearson, Mookie Jones, Marcus Morris and Kevin Jones clawed hard on the Garden hardwood in front of a crowd that was still only getting to their seats. The gathering audience seemed more interested in the title game than the local opening act, luckily for the Regional kids Michael Jordan waited until after the their game was over to make his appearance and steal the audience’s attention.
“The city team is going to smoke them,” one voice from the crowd offered.
However, the Suburban team got off to a quick start, taking a 17-13 lead at the first time out. After a while the lead swelled and the City team was dumbfounded. As the first half (of two twenty-minute halves) went on, the City team seemed like Mike Tyson did when he faught Buster Douglas in Tokyo. The City team, in home whites trimmed in silver, seemed stunned by the fact that the suburban kids had so much fight in them. Made up of division one bound ballers from Westchester, NY and New Jersey, the Suburban team, dressed in road blue trimmed in black, dictated the pace of the game from jump.
Kansas-bound twin brothers Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris carried the scoring load for the Suburban team in the first half, combining for 26 points. Linden High School guard Jordan Theodore may not be high profile, but his streaky shooting and ability to play the one and the two guard positions will do Seton Hall a lot of good next year. The City team was hustling for rebounds and in the passing lanes, but the Suburbans lead by over fifteen at times in the first half.
As the Suburbs took smart shots and shared the ball, the City team got frustrated on the bench and seemed to lack organization. Bishop Loughlin High School coach, Khalid Green, urged his team to take advantage of the Suburban team’s foul trouble, but his words fell on deaf ears. His team would be digging itself out of a hole most of the game.
The City team benefited from a tremendous first half from Christ the King High School forward Ryan Pearson (left). Pearson and his CTK teammate, Irving Walker, seemed to take it upon themselves to make plays and pull their squad close late in the first half. Pearson and Walker, who’s locked into the University of Florida, got help from a strong shooting half from Rutgers-committed, Patrick Jackson of Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn. Although Pearson had 17 points and 8 rebounds in the first twenty minutes, Walker 6 points and 5 assists, and Jackson 12 points and 4 rebounds, they couldn’t pull ahead of the Suburban team. In fact, they had trouble picking themselves off the floor.
At the end of the first half, the Suburbs lead the City 69-57.
In the second half the city squad returned to the court with a greater sense of urgency. Pearson wasted little time settling back into the flow of things. Blaise Ffrench, nephew of Murder Inc. CEO Irv Gotti, began connected on four second half shots before finishing with 10 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds. Ffrench, who has not found a school yet, and Jackson, aided by a solid effort by Pearson and Irving Walker to make players in the second half.
For the Suburban team, Theodore and the Morris brothers continued at a normal pace, while West Virginia-bound Kevin Jones of Mount Vernon High School had 13 second half points and 6 rebounds to keep the blue team ahead. Jiovanny Fontan, headed to Fordham, and Trovan Woodall, going to Pittsburgh, both turned it up to finish strong in the second half.
With poor showings from New York City favorites Trinity Fields and Daryl Bryant, the City team leaned on Pearson, who finished with 36 points and 15 rebounds, through most of the second half. Walker finished with a solid 20 points and 11 assists, most of which were dividends from Pearson’s monster performance.
The gap began to narrow late in the second half and the City team took some momentum back. The Suburban team got into early foul trouble and the City team responded by going to the basket. With under four minutes to go in the game, the Suburbs and the City were all tied up. Pearson made a big bucket to tie the game at 111. After a Suburban turnover, Mookie Jones came down the court and fouled Walker, who nailed two free throws to take a two-point advantage.
The game went on and the City team went up 6 points with just over one minute to go.
However, something changed. Walker turned the ball over and then a shuffle of the City line-up sent their rally off coarse. After going up one, Travon Woodall nailed a free throw to gain a two-point advantage for the blue team. The Suburban team managed to chip away at the City squad’s temporary lead and go ahead in roughly 66 seconds.
Down two, Ryan Pearson had a chance to tie the game, but only managed one of two shots from the free throw line. After a quick foul, the Suburban team extended the lead to three. After a quick inbound, the would-be home team hurried the ball up the court. In the longest 8 seconds of Irving Walker’s career he couldn’t find an open man or nail the three pointer the City team desperately needed as time expired.
The Suburbs scraped by the City 129-127. Marcus Morris was the Suburban MVP. Ryan Pearson was considered the co-mvp, but clearly had the best performance for the losing City team.