The St. James boys basketball team (11-4) faced off against Licking for the consolation championship of their tournament on Saturday, Jan. 20. This matchup ended up being one of the strangest of the tournament, as the two teams combined to shoot an astonishing 80 free throws. St. James was able to get the edge at the free throw line and on the scoreboard to win 75-60.
Licking was able to control the first couple of minutes of the game by taking advantage of their size. Licking scored the first four points of the game, but St. James was able to make some adjustments to set the pace for the contest. The Tigers settled into their press, which helped jumpstart their offense. Ivan Fuhring and Ryan Harlan each hit threes to close out the quarter to give St. James an early 14-12 lead. The first quarter was also where St. James started racking up the free throws, going 6-6 at the charity stripe in the quarter.
Harlan and Fuhring continued to have strong scoring efforts in the second. Harlan knocked down a pair of threes, scoring eight points in the second period, while Fuhring added another seven. Licking was hurt by fouls in the quarter, committing eight fouls by the mid-point of the second quarter. GT Nicholson had three fouls in the first half, which would make things difficult in a foul happy second half. St. James went into the half with a 31-26 lead.
The Tigers continued to extend their lead in the third, where four different players scored. Tyler Recker and Carter Keeney each scored five points, while Ivan Fuhring added another four, as the St. James lead ballooned out to double figures. The Tigers went into the fourth with a 47-37 lead.
The fourth quarter was basically just a free throw contest. St. James shot a staggering 24 free throws in the fourth quarter alone, while Licking shot another 16. Recker was able to score six points from the field as the only St. James player to score more than a basket from the field in the fourth. Fuhring shot nine free throws in the fourth quarter before fouling out midway through the quarter. He made six of those attempts. Keeney was a perfect 8-8 from the charity stripe in the quarter, while Mason Parker added four free throws on six attempts. Fuhring, Harlan and Bailey Terrill all fouled out in the fourth, but the Tigers held on for a 75-60 win.
St. James shot 43 free throws in the win, while Licking shot another 37 to bring the combined total to 80 for the game. St. James made 33 of those attempts to score almost half of their points from the free throw line. Licking was 23-37 at the charity stripe in the contest.
Fuhring had a fantastic game with 20 points, seven rebounds, four steals and four blocks, despite fouling out with four minutes to play. Harlan added 15 points, all in the first half and tied his own school record by taking five charges. Keeney also added 15 points with a team-high five assists, while Recker chipped in with another 13 points. Bailey Terrill scored eight points and was named to the All-Tournament team for the Tigers.
"Right at the beginning of the fourth quarter we cracked (the game) open a little bit and then everything came to a screeching halt with the free throws," said head coach Ben Smith. "I think it took them out of their rhythm, it took us out of rhythm. It was just bizarre. I don't know that I've ever been in a game quite like that before."
St. James had great performances across the board, but coach Smith pointed out that two players that flew under the radar were Ty Uffman and Parker. Those two were tasked with shutting down Kaden Quick and they did just that, as Quick was held scoreless for Licking.
"Man, Ty Uffman and Mason Parker, did you hear 32 called at all tonight? They locked him up. That was their job," said the St. James head coach. "I think he got one open look all night and by that point it was decided. They did a great job tonight. You don't always recognize what they're doing defensively, because you've got the big kids, but I was pretty pleased with them."
There's no rest for St. James, as they'll jump right back into play with the Hermann Tournament next week, where they'll open the tournament as the three seed against Bourbon on Tuesday, Jan. 23. Coach Smith wants to see his team carry the momentum from back to back wins into the next tournament.
"Win, lose or draw, I always feel like we come out of this thing prepared, it usually makes us better," said coach Smith. "They're happy they won. They didn't wanna be on this side (of the bracket) but they took care of business and they'll do a good job of refocusing and getting ready to go."
An extra treat for St. James was coach Smith and girls head coach Terry Wells coming out to surprise athletic director Phil West, who announced he'll be stepping down from the position at the end of the school year. The coaches gave West a plaque, as well as gift cards from local businesses that wanted to thank him for his work at St. James over his career.
"I'm so lucky that I got to work for him," said coach Smith. "He's a great AD, he's a mentor, he's a good friend. I think the world of him. He's been a great role model for me.
"He took me from being a young coach with a hot head and mentored me through it and now I'm an old coach with a hot head or with a warm head, I've cooled down a little bit," Smith added with a laugh. "He's the best, I wish we could do more for him. That's what he does, he just gives to everyone else."