The St. James boys basketball team faced off against Southern Boone in the District Semi-Final at Fatima on Thursday, Feb. 22. The Tigers were able to pull out a 64-61 win through pure grit in a back and forth contest.
This was an even contest from the opening tip, as neither team was able to grab control of the contest. The biggest lead of the opening quarter was a short-lived four point lead from Southern Boone and the lead changed hands throughout the quarter. The points were flying in the first and St. James was able to find some consistent scoring with their transition offense and by driving to the basket. Drives also led to free throws, as the Tigers went 7-9 from the charity stripe in the first. Bailey Terrill and Ryan Harlan tied for the team lead in points with six a piece and the Tigers went into the second quarter with a 20-18 lead.
The second quarter mirrored the first, as no one was able to control the game. St. James had the biggest lead of the quarter with four points, but that lead evaporated quickly. Terrill had another great quarter with five points, while Tyler Recker added another four points off the bench. Southern Boone got hot from behind the arc down the stretch. Tyson Smith knocked down two threes in the last few minutes and Ryan Andrews added one more with 10 seconds left in the half to give the Eagles a 37-35 lead at the half.
St. James came out in the second half with a great spark on both sides of the ball. Both teams struggled to get shots to fall to open the quarter, but the Tigers were able to kick things into gear. St. James was able to take a lead quickly and stretched that lead out to as many as seven points in the quarter. Recker and Terrill were both big for St. James in the quarter, as the each scored six points to lead the way. Southern Boone got the last basket of the quarter, but St. James went into the final frame with a 53-48 lead.
The Tigers kept rolling in the fourth, extending their lead to eight points on an early three from Harlan. Southern Boone was able to get within four points, but St. James stretched that lead right back out to eight points after a timeout. Southern Boone wasn't ready to pack it in though, as they chipped away at the Tigers in the final two minutes of the game. Southern Boone was able to get within a point several times, but St. James never relinquished their lead. The Tigers needed a few big free throws down the stretch and they came from Harlan. After missing the front end of a one and one, Harlan went 4-4 from the free throw line in the final 30 seconds. His last trip to the line was the biggest. Harlan landed on his right hand after being fouled and he could be seen trying to shake his hand loose as he walked to the line. The lefty was able to block out the injury and fired his first shot. It hit the rim and shot into the air, before finally bouncing in. He then hit his second to give St. James a 64-61 lead with nine seconds left. The Tigers were able to hold off a last effort from Southern Boone to win by that score.
"Just repetition," said Harlan of what it took to hit those final free throws. "I went up there and I was confident. It feels like our gym in here and the basketball gods helped me on that one bounce."
On of the keys for St. James in the win was improved rebounding as the game went on. Southern Boone dominated the glass early on, especially on the offensive boards. St. James was able to adjust as the night went on and got great performances from Terrill and Ivan Fuhring. Fuhring pulled down 10 boards and blocked two shots, while Terrill grabbed eight rebounds.
"The guys watched them against Dixon the other night and they just hit the offensive glass so hard. That was a point of emphasis for us," said head coach Ben Smith. "You can't just block them out and go get it, you have to hold your block out and then go get it, because they're just attacking you. You could see it early and then I thought we settled in."
Offensively, St. James and Southern Boone made adjustments all night long and the Tigers were able to find the offensive flow they were looking for to pull out the win.
"It was almost like a little bit of a chess match there, two teams kinda figuring each other out," said coach Smith. "I thought we did a really good job tonight of attacking the paint off the pass. We were hitting Bailey at the high post, hitting Ivan and Carter in the high post some and when we do that, it opens up our outside and it opens up our driving lanes."
At the end of the day, the win came down to senior leadership. Harlan led St. James with 19 points in the win and had the team high in assists with three. Terrill added 17 points and eight boards and Ivan Fuhring chipped in with eight points and 10 rebounds, as they both fell just short of double-doubles. Carter Keeney was a big part of the offense early with five points, so just about all of their seniors made a big impact. The only underclassman on the scoreboard was Recker, who had 15 points for the Tigers.
"These guys have gotten a lot of experience and they didn't get rattled," said coach Smith. "They're just tough kids, they're fun to watch, they're fun to coach, they're fun to be around. I wanna keep winning so I can keep being around them and keep playing and keep coaching them. You just don't get many groups like this."
The Tigers will face off against Father Tolton Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. for the District Championship.