Crusaders Beat the Mount!

Posted Tuesday, February 06, 2007 by Jason Edwards

Stepinac stuns Mountaineers
By Kevin Devaney Jr.
The Journal News

(Original publication: February 3, 2007)

WHITE PLAINS - In Melquan Bolding's two seasons at Stepinac, he's established himself among the nation's best players. He's lit up scoreboards, filled stat sheets and put on high-flying dunking displays, all while turning the Crusaders into CHSAA contenders and creating a personal air of invincibility.

With one exception.

The kryptonite to Bolding's Superman prowess was Mount St. Michael, the team Stepinac couldn't beat, and the defender, Brian Riley, Bolding couldn't dominate.

In his third, and possibly final, try, Bolding finally removed the only smudge from his resume. In the best game of his career, Bolding scored 29 points and led the Crusaders to a shocking 66-63 victory to end a 29-game conference winning streak for Mount St. Michael, the reigning CHSAA A Division champs.

"This is the best victory the program has had since I've been here," said Crusaders coach Tim Philp, who's been at Stepinac for seven seasons. "Mel was phenomenal. This was the best game he played all year. He waited for everything to come to him."

Bolding, a 6-foot-4 junior guard who's already committed to Louisville, scored eight points in the fourth quarter, highlighted by a clutch rebound and a coast-to-coast drive where he went up and under two defenders for a gorgeous finger-roll. The basket put Stepinac (13-6) ahead 61-54 with 1:14 remaining.

Mount St. Michael (16-2) fell behind by nine with 54 seconds to play on a pair of Andrew Flynn free throws. The Mountaineers threatened late, but never got closer than three, and that was on a Jarrett Malone 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Bolding barely celebrated with his team after the final buzzer. While everyone was jumping and hugging, Bolding shook hands with the opposing team and walked off the court stone-faced.

"This win matters a lot right now, but this isn't the playoffs," Bolding said. "That's when things really start. We played really well, and things were going our way tonight. But we still have to beat them again."

A player who is constantly criticized for slacking on defense and his questionable shot selection, Bolding played nearly flawless on both ends.

He made 10 of 20 shots, most of which came within the flow of an offensive game plan geared toward spreading the floor and attacking the basket.

By doing that, Stepinac successfully took away what Mount St. Michael does best - play help defense and get out in transition.

It also gave Stepinac point guard Tony Taylor plenty of room to maneuver. The junior sliced through the Mount defense and recorded 20 points and seven assists.

Taylor and Bolding guided the Crusaders back from an early nine-point deficit. Bolding, who was being shadowed by Riley, who scored 10 points in the second quarter, including a putback in the closing seconds to tie the score at 29-29 at the half.

Crusaders forward Rashaad Slowley also made key contributions, grabbing 12 rebounds against a much-taller Mount front-line.

Despite being shadowed by Riley, the league's top defender, Bolding scored nine points in the third quarter as Stepinac took a one-point lead into the fourth. Bolding then hit all four of his free throws in the fourth and pulled down five critical rebounds.

"Bolding had 29, but Riley gave it everything he had," Mount coach Tom Fraher said. "Melquan is a terrific player. He's strong, he gets you on your heels a little bit, and he hit some shots tonight.

"That's what it all comes down to. They made plays tonight, and we didn't."

Reach Kevin Devaney Jr. at kdevaney@lohud;.com.