By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Nazareth Kingsmen have won the championship in their division of the Catholic High School Athletic League during each of the past two seasons.
After a 1-3 start, including a loss to Bishop Ford, it turned out that the loss to Ford was exactly what the Kingsmen needed. They haven’t lost since, with the win over Brooklyn Collegiate 64-59 in a non-league game in Flatbush on Thursday making it 16 straight for the Kingsmen.
"We were the favorites going into that one and we let everybody down; we let ourselves down," said senior Tishsean Emmanuel. "Afterward, we just spoke as a team and said that was unacceptable if we were going to try for another championship. Ever since then, regardless of the competition, we've been focused and have played our game.
"I'm glad that we lost that game then so that way we know that we are beatable," Emmanuel continued. "It taught us that we had to respect our opponents no matter who they are. That ended up being a good loss for us because it came in the beginning of the season."
The Kingsmen have done nothing but win since then. This was a big win too even though it was a non-league game. Brooklyn Collegiate plays in the Public School Athletic League's tough Brooklyn AA Division. For a team in the CHSAA Brooklyn A Division to beat them is big momentum going into the playoffs.
"Any win against a team like that is good for the program," said Nazareth coach Todd Jamison, who scheduled this game because his team had a two week break before playoffs started. "I know that they are missing a couple of guys, but we got ourselves together in the second half and did what we had to do."
The Kingsmen struggled early in this game and its star Samson Usilo was held scoreless in the first half as he and his team played sloppy basketball. Things changed just before halftime though. With Nazareth down by 10, Emmanuel launched a half-court shot at the buzzer that banked off of the backboard to cut the lead to seven.
That play seemed to be a big momentum shift for the Kingmen as they were able to immediately cut that lead down to just two points early in the third. It was 40-35 when Kobe Teleford six points in a row to take a 41-40 lead with 1:09 left in the quarter. Things really started to click in the fourth as Usilo scored seven points, Ammad Alkulaidi had nine and Emmanuel had four.
"That really boosted us," Teleford said of Emmanuel's half-court buzzer beater to end the second quarter. "If it weren't for that who knows what would have happened."
Not to be overlooked was the way the defense adjusted to Collegiate's Willie Barnes. Barnes started to get hot in the second when he scored nine points. He scored another 12 in the third, but the Kingsmen were finally able to put the clamps on him in the fourth. That's when they, not coincidentally, finally took the lead.
The Kingsmen are now headed to the playoffs, which don't begin until March 1, with a ton of confidence and are favorites to repeat as champions. It isn't hard when Manhattan College commits Usilo and Samson Akilo are leading the team. Usilo has averaged over 20 points per game this season and Akilo more than 10 rebounds a game. Emmanuel also gives them a speedy guard and Alkulaidi seems to be the wild card.
Jamison hopes that they can continue to draw from the disappointment of the Ford game rather than become comfortable with a 16-game winning streak. He's quick to point out that even though they are favorites that they haven't won anything yet.
"They didn't listen to me when I tried to get them up for that Ford game," Jamison admitted. "They seem to have learned their lesson with this 16-game winning streak, but our division is tough. It's not going to be easy beating teams a second or third time and when you enter a single-elimination tournament anything can happen."