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Late-game demons continue to plague Jefferson

The Thomas Jefferson boys’ basketball team has made a habit out of blowing second-half leads.

At least the Orange Wave always gave itself a puncher’s chance late, even if they had lost three of four in similar fashion to Boys & Girls, Mount Vernon and Paterson Catholic (N.J.) entering Saturday night’s showdown with Catholic power Rice.

Against the Raiders, however, the Brooklyn school took it one step further. They were completely blown away in the final stanza, outscored 21-6, to cap their third straight loss, ending the alarming 56-41 defeat at Gauchos Gym in the Bronx with three of their 22 turnovers in each of their final three possessions.

“I just thought we didn’t execute,” said assistant coach Seldon Jefferson, filling in for head man Lawrence Pollard who chose not to speak to reporters afterward. “We got a little fatigued. They stepped their defense up and we didn’t respond.”

Joel (Air Jamaica) Wright, who verbally committed to Fordham on Thursday, paced the Brooklyn school with 19 points and 16 rebounds, but starting guards Keith Spellman and Davontay Grace combined for just 15, three by Grace in what was easily one of the sophomore point guard’s worst performances of the season.

“I don’t know what else we can do; we’re working hard,” Wright said. “We can’t finish. … When we get down, we got to kept our composure and execute.”

They’re not getting along either. Spellman and reserve David Coley got into a heated argument late in the fourth quarter as they headed back to the bench during a timeout. The dispute was quickly settled and neither player harbored any ill will after the game.

“That’s just how our kids are,” Jefferson said. “It was nothing. They came back to the huddle and it was ok.”

Said Wright: “Every team is going to do that. We were down a little bit and they got frustrated.”

Spellman scored 12, but was a non-factor in the second half, re-aggravating a back injury that has bothered him since early January on a drive to the hole in the opening half. After Spellman picked up his third foul midway through the third quarter, Pollard kept him out until just three minutes remaining in the final quarter and Rice had overtaken the Orange Wave (14-7).

“I’m frustrated,” the senior guard said, calling his back tender. “I can’t help my team like I want to.”

He implored teammates, reserves such as Coley, Marcus Romain and Eric Turpin Jr., to pick up the slack for the big three of Spellman, Grace and Wright. The opposition, he noted, are keying on them. At the SNY Invitational, Turpin and forward Kyle Francis stepped to the forefront. But that wasn’t the case against Rice.

Coley, still clearly not 100 percent after knee surgery, managed just two points, while Romain and Turpin were non-factors. Jefferson, as a result of poor shooting sloppy ball handling, managed just 12 points in the second half, a season low.

This obviously isn’t the way the Orange Wave wanted to prepare for Tuesday’s rematch with three-time defending city champion Lincoln in East New York.

There is bickering. The star is hurting. And the supporting cast isn’t doing enough.  Then again, the last time the Railsplitters were in action they lost by 36 points to St. Benedict’s Prep (N.J.), ranked third in the nation by USA Today.

“They’re struggling, we’re struggling,” Jefferson said, cracking a slight smile. “It’s the battle of the struggles.”

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