When the guards that fuel the Cesar Chavez boys’ basketball team this year click, forays into the lane happen in a flash, ball movement is crisp, and three-pointers sail through the net.“It’s a thing of beauty,” according to Coach Malcolm Battle. But it’s games like Saturday afternoon’s matinee at the Uptown Hoopfest, when shots clang off the rim in succession, that still worry him.
So the moment that effectively ended Cesar Chavez’s 69-63 win over host Wilson left him satisfied, even if the rest of the performance wasn’t particularly sharp.
The Eagles held a 61-54 lead with less than three minutes to go in regulation when guard Jacob Long penetrated into the teeth of Wilson’s zone, drew two defenders and unfurled a cross-court no-look pass to fellow junior Kaleaf Tate on the wing. Tate, who had come up empty from beyond the arc to that point, then nailed his only three-pointer without hesitation to push the advantage back to double-digits.
Despite some shaky free-throw shooting down the stretch, it gave Chavez (12-5) the breathing room to keep Wilson at bay.
“I just know everything he does,” Long said of the play.
Tate and Long have been the catalysts for the Eagles all winter, and they finished with 20 and 16 points, respectively, on Saturday in Tenleytown by knifing into the paint on offense and creating havoc defensively.
The pair first got to know each other as middle school rivals, joined forces back in 2013 at the Northeast charter school and became such good friendsthey ended up playing on the same AAU team. But Battle always wonders how this back court, which also features senior Greg Blaine, will respond if shots aren’t falling.
Which is exactly the scenario Chavez ran into during a sluggish start in the opening minutes of action.
This time, though, the Eagles redoubled their efforts defensively, hounding Wilson with a full-court press that spurred a run. At the end of the first quarter, they had a 17-5 lead and the bench was off its feet celebrating a fastbreak dunk by guard Omari Hagood (13 points) since “he’s been begging for a dunk all season,” Tate said.
“We play better when we make chaos,” added Long.
Junior Isaiah Jennings (17 points) kept Wilson (4-7) within striking distance and the Tigers mounted a fourth-quarter charge behind guard Ayinde Hakim (16 points), but Tate and Long never let them grab control of the game.