Believe it or not, Long Island Lutheran guard Andre Curbelo prefers to play at what he calls “a controlled pace.” But given the Crusaders’ height, depth and speed, the sophomore from Puerto Rico doesn’t mind life in the fast lane.
“When we can push it, I don’t have a problem with that,” Curbelo said, smiling.
Lutheran pushed it from the start, pulling away from visiting Half Hollow Hills East, 110-81, Friday night in a non-league game that matched two of Long Island’s top teams and several elite players. Curbelo scored 28 points, including four three-pointers, and was one of five Lutheran players to reach double figures. Backcourt mates Tykei Greene (22 points) and Tyson Etienne (20 points) more than offset a dazzling performance by Thunderbirds senior All-Long Island guard Savion Lewis, who scored a career-high 43 points.
“That was crazy,” Lutheran coach John Buck said of the game’s frenetic pace. He, too, prefers a slower style. “As a coach, I’d rather guard more and lock you down, but with the team we have, we’re better getting up and down. This team has to play fast.”
Hills East likes to run the floor, as well, and 81 points is usually enough to beat most teams. But Lutheran isn’t like most teams. With its guards forcing turnovers and its big front line controlling the boards, the Thunderbirds were going to be runners-up on this night.
Curbelo scored 13 points in the first quarter, when the Crusaders flew to a 31-16 lead that they expanded to 57-41 at the half. But the T-birds started quickly in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to 69-60 after five consecutive free throws by Lewis. Lutheran then regained control with a 10-1 burst to close the period, led by reserve Pietro Giovanardi, who scored six of his 13 points in that stretch.
A crowd-pleasing down-the-lane dunk by Greene capped a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter, and Lutheran kept running and gunning. Curbelo hit a jumper, two free throws and a breakaway layup to make it 97-70 with 5:11 left. He joined the starters on the bench at that point.
“We know we have shooters,” Curbelo said, a nod to the Crusaders’ 10 three-pointers. “So we move the ball. I like to attack the basket and look for the open shooter.”
Curbelo played much of the summer for Puerto Rico’s under-16 team that earned a bronze medal in Argentina and qualified for next summer’s World Cup. He returned a different player from the one who was on the Lutheran JV last year.
“He’s got a good feel for the game,” Buck said. “He has the ability to stop and go and get people off balance. He goes to the rim and shoots the three.”
Curbelo has been a quick study.