By Danny Wild
NEW YORK – This whole Lance Stephenson hype/buzz/love-fest is really starting to become surreal. It’s easy to forget that not only is this guy still in high school, but he’s still just a junior.
Here’s a 17-year-old kid who goes from being suspended one week to dominating and then trash-talking his biggest NYC rival the next.
But give Stephenson credit. His game-high 27 points on live cable TV led Lincoln to an easy 81-60 victory over Queens rival Holy Cross on Sunday in the Hope Thru Hoops/Tom Crotty Classic at Hofstra University.
This, by the way, was a big, big matchup that, for the most part, did not live up to expectations. Lance, however, lived up to the hype.
Live on MSG Network, the game was touted as Lance and Lincoln vs. Virginia-bound senior Sylven Landesberg – both stars clashed most recently in August at the Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic in Rucker Park. Back then, Lance and Landesberg pushed, shoved, shouted and battled all afternoon in a game that ended with Stephenson walking away with an MVP trophy.
Much of the same Lance-domination on Sunday. The guard dropped 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds, had four assists and two steals – in three quarters of action – while Landesberg scored 21 but battled “flu-like” symptoms.
Lincoln, No. 4 in the MaxPreps New York poll, entered the game ranked No. 15 in the country by USA Today, while Holy Cross was ranked No. 21. Ironically, the Railsplitters (15-2) are absent from Monday’s MaxPreps Top-25, while Holy Cross (11-3) is ranked No. 14 nationally. You do the math.
Anyway, the game wasn’t exactly a battle of heavyweights – Holy Cross got owned for the first 10 minutes. Both Stephenson and Landesberg issued some jabs through the media afterwards.
“Every time he plays me, he's sick or something," Stephenson said of Landesberg in the New York Daily News. The Holy Cross star did not start because of his sickness, and Stephenson rode the bench in the second quarter because of foul trouble.
Sheesh, what a bore.
“When I got into foul trouble, the game got kind of boring,” Stephenson said.
“I was weak," Landesberg told SNY.tv. According to report, Landesberg threw up several times after a loss to Christ the King two nights earlier. "I had trouble standing up in the morning."
Ironically, Stephenson and Landesberg were one-time roommates when both played for the Team Next AAU club prior to high school. Best friends no more.
“All of a sudden, it just changed around," Stephenson said.
With Landesberg on the bench, the Railsplitters jumped out to a 17-2 lead to open the game. Landesberg came off the bench midway into the quarter and eventually helped Holy Cross pull to within 38-31 at the half.
Stephenson, with a pair of fouls, ignited Lincoln's big lead in the second half, scoring 18 of his 27 points on layups and pull-up jumpers.
"I got that from Kobe Bryant," Stephenson bragged to the Daily News of his jump shots. "That's that stop-and-pop."
Holy Cross, with the loss, was knocked out of the USA Today Super 25 poll. Ouch.
Even without Lance, the Railsplitters are proving they are a solid team.
“My teammates came out strong, and we blew them out," Stephenson told SNY. "I have more faith in my teammates now."
“Because [Stephenson is] on the team, everyone is watching," Lincoln’s James Padgett said. Padgett and Justin Greene combined for 27 points. The ill Landesberg still managed 21 points, while Blaise Ffrench, who might have the coolest name in the city, led Holy Cross with 23.
The big win over Cross comes about two weeks after Lincoln knocked off Jefferson without Stephenson, who was suspended from school after a brawl with a teammate.
"They're a tremendous team," Holy Cross coach Paul Gilvary told SNY. "They're very talented, very well coached. They certainly deserve all the accolades they get."
Accolades, attention, adoring fans, lengthy stories on MaxPreps – what more could a high school team want? And this is actually pretty funny – students at several universities have already begun campaigning for Lance to come play at their school. Not kidding. The “Hoosier Nation wants Lance Stephenson” group on Facebook already has 228 members from Indiana University who have setup a tribute page to Lance, complete with YouTube video highlights and a photograph of students holding an “I love NY/Stephenson” banner at a game. Seriously.
It gets even better. “The VILLE wants Lance Stephenson” has 225 students from Louisville who have also uploaded videos, photos and a message board dedicated to Lance. "Born Ready," an online documentary film that trails Lance, has 10 episodes available. (MaxPreps has its own Lance page). Next thing, Barack Obama will be wooing Lance for an endorsement.
Well, one more note: Lincoln will face New York state’s No. 1 team, Rice, in a rematch of the 2007 New York State Federation final -- won by Lincoln, 68-62 -- in the Primetime Shootout on Feb. 9 on ESPNU. Wonder if Kobe will be watching?
Also, the aforementioned Lincoln-St. Benedict’s game in New Jersey apparently fell apart because of sanctioning issues. What a bummer. Lincoln will play Thursday at Grady, Friday against Cardoza and Feb. 5 against Boys and Girls.
Pearson, Christ the King Buzz Cross
A forgettable weekend for Holy Cross began on Friday, thanks in part to Ryan Pearson’s clutch three-pointer. Pearson’s dramatic buzzer-beater sent Christ the King into a pair of overtimes, eventually ending with a 92-87 comeback win over Cross in Middle Village.
Trailing by three with two seconds left, Pearson took a court-length in-bound pass by Ihsaan Davis away from three Cross players, turned and knocked down a left-handed hook shot from three-point range to send the game into overtime.
"I was just determined to get the ball," Pearson told the Queens TimesLedger. “I really just wanted to get a shot off. That it went in was just a bonus. That was the biggest shot I ever took in my life."
Pearson, who reportedly suffered from a stomach virus, ended up with a game-high 35 points as the Royals rallied for a huge win.
Interestingly, Holy Cross senior Sylven Landesberg, who scored 34 points in the loss, also dealt with “flu-like symptoms.” According to the TimesLedger, Landesberg vomited three times after the game.
Landesberg nailed a clutch shot in the final seconds of the first overtime, minutes after he drew a foul and hit a pair of free-throws to put Holy Cross up, 74-72, with five seconds left in regulation.
“He was really amazing tonight," Holy Cross coach Paul Gilvary told the newspaper. "I don't want to be dramatic, but he was really sick."
Sick as in, amazing, or sick as in, he joined Pearson for post-game vomiting? Not sure. Both, perhaps.
Erving Walker’s 33 points led the Royals, while Anthony Martin added 14. Holy Cross got 12 points from Ernest Freeman, 11 from Kayvon Roberts and 10 from Tim Beinert. Blaise Ffrench fouled out with four minutes to go in regulation.
Here’s your MaxPreps New York Top-10, presented by David Letterman:
1. Rice: The thought of facing Kemba Walker should make everyone on Holy Cross feel some Landesberg flu-like symptoms. Don’t miss it – Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Queens.
2. Holy Cross: Two straight losses and a date with Rice upcoming. Nauseous? Bad news for the Knights.
3. St. Raymond: Bronx-Brooklyn throw-down on Tuesday at Xaverian. Gets even better: St. Ray at Rice on Friday – get your popcorn ready, as TO once said.
4. Lincoln: They’re good. Still watching bornready.tv? Lets see some Lincoln love in the MaxPreps Top-25.
5. Christ the King: Royals lost to No. 6 Bishop Loughlin last Wednesday yet remain above them in the poll.
6. Bishop Loughlin: Lions will host Holy Cross on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.
7. Boys & Girls: 17-3, have not lost in a month, recently destroyed three Jersey teams. Huge showdown with Lincoln on Feb. 5. Can’t wait!
8. Niagara Falls: Wolverines are 12-1 and undefeated since dropping their season opener to previously-ranked Henninger.
9. Mt. Vernon: 11-3 after a rare loss to Linden (NJ) on Jan. 26.
10. Bishop Maginn: The Albany-area Griffins are 14-1, but they haven’t faced anyone south of the BQE. Thruway domination, basically.
Ladies and gentlemen: Boys & Girls photos have been posted, thanks to New Jersey’s Dan Coppola, who took in the Kangaroos 47-45 win on Jan. 19 at Christian Brothers in Lincroft.
Rice Wins, Face St. Ray on Friday
Kemba Walker had 20 points and four steals to help No. 4 Rice to an 88-52 win over Archbishop Molloy on Tuesday. The Raiders, ranked No. 4 in the nation by MaxPreps, face Holy Cross on Tuesday, take on St. Raymond on Friday, tackle Bishop Loughlin on Sunday and further add to a busy Feb. 5 schedule with a date at St. Peters (Staten Island).
Rice remained idle at No. 7 in Monday’s USA Today national poll. St. Ray also stayed where they were at No. 12. The Friday matchup could mean movement for both teams. Check out the Kemba photos and video highlights.
Around the Apple
Not so long ago, Darrell Green’s squad was 4-3. That’s old history now – School of the Future crushed Bard on Saturday, 81-20. A week ago, “Future” knocked off Health Profession, 71-38. No looking back now.
Around the city on Saturday, South Shore beat Grady by five, 57-52, Bensalem tripped up Newton, 62-57, and Taft sneaked past Law Journalism & Research, 72-69. Hackley, Council Rock North, Hamer, Trevor Day, port Richmond and Wagner all picked up wins over the weekend.
Let’s hope the Giants can pickup a win over Tom Brady & friends this weekend.
Danny Wild is a writer and photographer for MaxPreps and can be reached at email@example.com