TOMS RIVER, N.J. — It didn’t take long to realize this was not just another game for Andre Curbelo.
When Curbelo and his Long Island Lutheran teammates took the court Saturday night, nearly all eyes in the arena were focused on Sierra Canyon — a high-profile, highly ranked boys basketball team out of California with a talented roster that includes LeBron James’ son Bronny and Dwyane Wade’s son Zaire.
Any time Bronny touched the ball in warmups, there were ‘‘oohs’’ and ‘’ahhs’’ and phones focused on the freshman phenom.
Curbelo and his teammates expected as much. But once the game started, the eyes shifted toward the LuHi senior point guard.
In front of a sellout crowd in the final game of the Metro Classic, Curbelo scored 25 points to go along with his dazzling dribbling and playmaking abilities as Long Island Lutheran defeated Sierra Canyon, 86-74, at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena.
After a slow start for the Crusaders, Curbelo made the most of the moment. The senior defeated backcourt traps and made it look routine and surgical. And after nearly each one, he seemed to finish the layup himself or find a teammate for an easy basket.
The arena quickly became Curbelo’s — and he wasn’t going to give it up.
“He lives for moments like this,” coach John Buck said. “The bigger the game, the better he plays. Sometimes if we are at a game and there are a couple dozen people in the crowd, he has his worst performances because he lives for games like this.”
With Curbelo’s family making the trip from Puerto Rico to see him play, the point guard wanted to put on a show. The game was streamed online via ESPN, and he didn’t forget about being passed over for the McDonald’s All-American Game.
“I came out ready to go,” said Curbelo, who added 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals. “I think this game was a chance to prove ourselves and myself. A lot of people came to watch the opponent. Also, people wanted me in the All-American Game. I didn’t make it, but I’m here and I’m here to prove something, and that’s what I did. I took over, I relied on my teammates, they were great, they helped me a lot and that’s what we do best with LuHi basketball.”
Zed Key finished with 25 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks and Rafael Pinzon had 17 points for the Crusaders, who held James to two points off the bench in limited minutes. Wade also scored two points off the bench.
Long Island Lutheran (19-3) got off to a slow start, as Sierra Canyon held a 21-11 lead early in the second quarter. But once Curbelo started to beat the press in the second quarter, LuHi was out and running. The Crusaders scored 27 points in the period to take a 38-35 halftime lead, and LuHi never trailed after that.
“I think we were just feeling it out,” Buck said. “We weren’t overhyped, we weren’t nervous. I think you just have to feel out a good team like that, and once we did, I think we had the best player in the game in Andre — the best point guard in the country, in my opinion — and he started taking over.”
Key scored at least five points in every quarter. “We were just really excited to get to play on this stage and get out there and put on a show,” he said. “And show that we are one of the top teams in the country.”
Buck was the first to admit there was no way the Crusaders were able to treat this high-profile matchup of two Top 25 teams as just another game.
“I’ll be fully honest, we had a scouting report much more detailed for this one,” Buck said. “We spent a lot more time and energy with the kids. They knew this was big and we didn’t treat this one like any other one. We knew this was special. And to represent New York and the East Coast and LuHi, so I’m just glad we did it.”