A victory Sunday afternoon was critical for Xaverian for several reasons, ending a two-game losing streak and playing well heading into the playoffs at the top of the list. But for Abe Akanmu, the biggest motivation to win was probably the most simplistic one.
“Being that it was our Senior Day, we wanted to come out real aggressive and play hard,” Akanmu said.
That’s what the Queens College-bound point guard and co-captain said before the game and fellow senior Justin Exum delivered on that plan, leading the Clippers to a 56-41 win against All Hallows in Bay Ridge.
In his final home game, Exum, the third-leading scorer in the CHSAA ‘AA,’ scored a game-high 24 points and grabbed five rebounds as Xaverian bounced back from back-to-back losses, including a embarrassing 71-49 loss at Holy Cross on February 9.
“Today was pretty much making sure we can beat the teams we needed to beat and we’re supposed to beat,” said Exum, an unsigned shooting guard. “We’re still confident going into the playoffs and still think we can beat the big teams with a little more progression.”
The Clippers certainly have progressed from their listless performance against Holy Cross, even in a 72-58 loss at Bishop Loughlin last Friday night.
“You want to be playing your best ball in the playoffs,” Xaverian coach Jack Alesi said. “I thought we played pretty well against Loughlin and I thought we played today. I thought we were as mentally sharp and crisp as we’ve been all year.”
Particularly impressive was the Clippers ball movement against the Gaels match-up zone that led to open perimeter shots. Xaverian (11-9, 5-7 Brooklyn/Queens) was 6-of-18 from 3-point range, while All Hallows was just 1-of-11 from beyond the arc.
“It’s something we’ve been working on all season,” Exum said. “We can all shoot pretty well and penetrate pretty well, it just makes it a little easier to get open shots.”
Exum shot 5-of-9 from the field in the second half, shaking off some early nerves.
“I was a little anxious, dribbling in a little too hard and not pulling up,” Exum said. “My coach told me to just find my rhythm and stay behind the 3-point line and shoot a couple.”
Exum scored 10 points in the second quarter as Xaverian closed out the half on a 17-5 run, taking a 29-17 lead into the locker room and never looked back.
Anthony Matthews and Brian Bernardi scored eight points apiece for the Clippers, while Omar Kellman had 13 points and 11 rebounds and Michael Alvarado was held to 11 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field for All Hallows (11-10, 4-7 New York), which lost three of its last four after winning seven straight as of this game.
While Exum said it would likely hit him in a few days that he’ll never play another home game, Senior Day was just about as perfect as he could have asked. Well, almost.
“It is Valentine’s Day,” Exum said, “so you never know.”