By Phil Anastasia
The whistles, errant shots and chanting crowd might have flustered another player.
Mike Cohen never blinked.
He stayed cool. He stayed calm. And he led Bishop Eustace through the frantic final minutes of Monday's 69-63 victory over Seneca in an Olympic Conference boys' basketball game.
"That senior leadership, it's invaluable," Bishop Eustace coach Bob Falconiero said in reference to Cohen's steady play down the stretch. "There's no replacing it. You have to have it if you're going to be a good team."
Cohen picked up his second foul just four minutes into the game. He spent nearly half of the game on the bench as his coach tried to ensure his senior captain would be available for crunch time.
Things were frustrating on the floor, too. Cohen's shot was off -- he even labored a bit from the foul line -- and scrappy Seneca kept making three-point shots to stay within striking distance.
In the stands, a small but vocal Seneca student section was serenading Cohen with chants of "Roll Tide" and "Over-Rated" -- both references to his signing a scholarship with Southeastern Conference program Auburn.
"I block it out," Cohen said of the crowd. "It is what it is. People are going to talk. I don't let it bother me."
The 5-foot-10 Cohen, who lives in Voorhees, said there were times in the past when he put too much pressure on himself and tried too hard to prove that he was worthy of a scholarship from a school in one of the strongest conferences in college sports.
Cohen is aware that some outsiders believe he was offered by Auburn coach Bruce Pearl as part of a "package deal" with his close friend Horace Spencer, a 6-foot-9 freshman for the Tigers who was a four-star recruit by rivals.com out of Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nv.
Spencer spent his first two high school seasons at William Tennant in Warminster, Pa. Spencer and Cohen are close friends from their days together in AAU basketball as young players.
"That stuff doesn't bother me," Cohen said. "I'm looking forward to the experience (at Auburn)."
Cohen said he is fully focusing on serving as a leader for a Bishop Eustace team with just three seniors and some promising younger players such as juniors Jesse Saul and Alec DiPietrantonio and sophomore Pat Fish, among others.
"I feel that responsbility and I like it," Cohen said. "My job is to lead these young guys, set an example and try to help us get some wins.
"I want to see them develop. I want to see them continue to develop after I'm gone."
Cohen was "on fire" on opening night against Lenape, according to Falconiero. Cohen scored 25 in a 68-43 victory.
Monday night was a different kind of challenge. Cohen finished with just seven points, shooting just 2-for-9 from the field and 3-for-6 from the foul line.
"One of those nights," Cohen said of his shooting. "But you have to battle through that."
Cohen guided the Crusaders down the stretch. His drive and dish to Saul resulted in the key moment of the game -- a three-point play that produced a 63-57 lead with one minute, 45 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
"I'm excited to serve as a leader for this team," Cohen said. "That's my role this year. I'm looking forward to it."
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org