By all accounts, the Rye basketball team is peaking at exactly the right time. The No. 3 seed in Class A won five of its last six games to end the regular season and kept that momentum going in their first-round matchup against Nyack on Feb. 21, beating the Indians 74-57 to keep the season alive. But the Garnets’ next test might be their toughest, as they get set for a quarterfinal round tilt against No. 6 Albertus Magnus on Feb. 26—after press time—that pits two similar, surging squads against each other in a do-or-die showdown.
Against the Indians last Friday, Rye utilized the same gameplan that’s served them well all year, playing tenacious defense and using a balanced offensive attack to beat No. 12 Nyack by 17 points. Quinn Kelly led the way for Rye with a 26 point, 12-rebound effort, but the Garnets got contributions from a host of other players like James Mackle, who put up 20 and 10.
“It makes us tough to prepare for, because it’s not a matter of other teams coming in and just trying to shut one guy down,” Rye coach John Aguilar said. “And I think we’re starting to see what we could be, and we have been playing our best basketball over the last three games of the season.”
A big factor behind Rye’s late-season resurgence is that the Garnets are finally getting healthy, after having dealt with a variety of nagging injuries that have limited their top stars throughout the winter. According to Aguilar, however, the adversity the team has faced throughout the regular season campaign has led to unheralded players—such as All-League point guard Rafael Velazquez—emerging as top contributors.
“Matt [Tepedino] missed a few games, [Quinn] Kelly hasn’t been 100 percent for the full year, but we’ve had guys like Rafael really step up throughout the year,” Aguilar said. “Especially running the offense, he’s a consistent player who gets us around 8-to-12 points per game, and he’s making everyone else better and more confident.”
Rye will need to by firing on all cylinders on Wednesday, however, as they host an Albertus Magnus team that seems to be following Rye’s blueprint for success. The Falcons won their last three regular season contests before edging John Jay 68-65 in the first round last week and should present a unique challenge for the Garnets in the quarterfinals.
“It’s going to be tough; Magnus has been one of the top teams around in the second half of the year, and they’re the only Class A team to beat Tappan Zee this year,” Aguilar said. “They play a lot like us, they’re guard-oriented, they set a lot of screens, and they might not be very big, but they’re active on the boards.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 6:45 p.m.