It took an upset stomach to finally halt Brian Bernardi’s hot shooting.
“He played with the flu today, believe it or not,” Xaverian coach Jack Alesi said of his junior guard. “I think maybe I played him a little bit too much early on, but he was shooting so well I figured let’s just ride it.”
Well that may be an understatement.
Bernardi scored a game-high 25 points, including five 3-pointers. He connected on three straight from behind the arc as the Clippers opened up a big halftime lead. Bernardi’s stomach began bothering him and limited him after the break, but Xaverian would hold off a ferocious South Shore run in the fourth to grab a 60-56 win in the New Heights Holiday Hoop Festival at the Harlem PAL on Jan. 2.
“Once I start feeling my shot, it will just keep going in,” said Bernardi, who scored 23 points on seven 3-pointers against Banneker before Christmas.
The Vikings were able to pressure Xaverian early forcing mistakes and getting easy baskets, but from the end of the first quarter and into the second the boys from Bay Ridge began to settle down. The Clippers (6-1) used penetration from Dylan Burns (eight points) and Vincent Dacunto (seven points) and superb ball movement to get open jumpers and easy layups. On the other end a switch to a zone controlled the game’s pace.
“We are all unselfish,” said Marist-bound senior forward Manny Thomas, who scored seven points. “We all don’t look for ourselves.”
Xaverian, which made eight 3-pointers in the game, went on a quick 11-2 run midway through the second quarter to open up a 31-16 lead with 3:10 left before halftime. Dacunto fed Mohamed Abass for a layup and after two Dominque Gist free throws Bernardi’s barrage began. He hit a long trey from the left side, another from the top of the key and a third from the right corner in a span of 55 seconds. Xaverian led 36-22 at the half and the lead ballooned to 44-22 early in the third with help from consecutive 3-pointers from Greg Civiletti and Bernardi.
“It should have been over at that point,” Alesi said. “But that’s what we are, a team that can spread the court and shoot the ball and we can still get inside.”
What the coach said his team stopped doing in the fourth quarter was playing quality defense and taking care of the basketball, something Alesi took some of the blame for as he was experimenting with some things on the defensive end. South Shore (5-6) trapped, rebounded and got to the basket to cut the lead to 49-41 on a Kwanique Martin 3-point play with 5:52 left in the game. The Vikings also got within 55-47 with 2:10 left.
“Great effort to come back down 20, but you can’t wait until you are down 20 to play with that kind of intensity,” South Shore coach Mike Beckles said.
Xaverian weathered the storm. Thomas was more active on both ends and his team made its free throws down the stretch, going 11-of-16 in the fourth. Bernardi was a perfect 6-for-6. South Shore’s Ayodele Akinmola banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to provide the final margin.
“I never thought it would get away from us,” Bernardi said. “I just thought we had to pick it up and I thought we could take the win.”