The script could not have gone much better for St. James in a trip to Eldon Tuesday night.
The Tigers got off to a quick start with a 12-0 run, 11 different players scored at least one bucket and the defense forced 21 Mustang turnovers. By the end, St. James walked off the floor with a 71-41 road win in hand.
“We are usually at our best if we are getting the turnovers in an up-and-down game,” St. James coach Ben Smith said. “I did not think we were really sharp offensively early, but we kind of settled in a little bit the second quarter and were able to crack that lead open a little bit. The guys moved the ball around well, got quite a few open shots and we were able to get some turnovers.”
Those turnovers largely came from a full-court press where St. James maintained its defensive intensity the full 90 feet of the court. On the offensive end, the Tigers were able to get some easy looks inside and never looked back.
“Effort is their big thing. They are always going to play hard,” Smith said of the mindset that allowed his team to get off to a quick start. “We rebounded pretty well tonight so that was able to get us two or three extra opportunities early on. You see the ball go through the hoop a couple of times, you get a little bit more confident and then kind of roll from there.
“They come out and play hard every night so you don’t have to worry too much about them being flat.”
Eldon may have been facing a steep hill early with a 12-0 deficit, but started to climb that hill and stayed within striking distance trailing 18-8 after the first quarter. However, St. James started to extend that lead and enjoyed a comfortable 40-21 advantage by halftime.
“The two teams on our schedule that have gotten after us the most defensively have been Eugene and Fatima and we handled pressure pretty well in those two games,” Eldon coach Brandon Kliethermes recalled. “We made them pay on the back end of the press a few times, but we did not shoot the ball very well tonight, we did not finish at the rim and just did not seem fundamental.
“Hats off to St. James. I thought their kids played their tails off and I think we unfortunately got a little intimidated to start off the game giving them 12 points right away. We spent a lot of energy trying to dig out of a hole like that.”
As St. James started to extend its lead, Kliethermes’ message to his team was quite clear.
“I told them, ‘Hey this is our floor. We’ve put up 10,000 shots over the summer here, we’ve sweat here and had tired mornings coming in here and working. You’ve got to have some pride, dial in to do what we do and protect your home court,’” the coach said. “I think defensively, they mentally wore us out and I think we were mentally pretty fragile tonight for some reason.”
St. James senior Bailey Terrill led the Tiger offense with 13 points, while adding a team-high eight rebounds and four assists. Senior Ivan Fuhring added 12 points, while fellow senior Carter Keeney chipped in 10 points and a team-high five assists. Junior Tyler Recker also finished his night with 10 points to round out the Tigers in double figures. Three Tigers also scored their first varsity points, as Austin Ridenhour, Johnny Duncan and Andrew Brandon each hit a three in the fourth quarter. Defensively, St. James had 15 steals as a team, with Mason Parker and Ty Uffmann each getting three steals.
“I thought Carter had a really good game. Really early in the second quarter, he really started taking it to the rim well,” Smith pointed out. “(Johnny) Duncan getting his first varsity points tonight was exciting for everybody so it was a good game for us. We go in and play another one on Friday.”
That Friday opponent will be Union as St. James gets ready for its first conference game of the year. Smith is looking for his guys to continue to roll and shore up any flaws they may have that has led his club to a 4-2 record heading into Friday night’s contest.
“Keep doing the same things we’ve been doing, keep working on areas we need to improve on, be a little cleaner offensively and make sure that we are still blocking out and rebounding hard,” Smith stated. “Hopefully we can go out there and do as well as we did tonight.”
Eldon also had a few players reach double figures Tuesday night as seniors Jordan Metz and Devin Degraffenreid along with sophomore Clayton Moore all knocked down 11 points each. Kliethermes said having a balanced offensive attack has not been an issue so far this season, but the coach would like to see everyone sinking easy shots.
“Tonight was as hard sledding scoring the ball as we’ve had this year and that means St. James is doing some good things defensively. We did not shoot it very well, second shots were at a premium tonight and we did not score in the paint,” the coach said. “I like that we got three guys in double figures and we’ve been scoring pretty well, but we have to make sure we are hitting the easy ones. Everyone can score if we are making the easy shots so it is more of a team concept and our guys are doing a pretty good job of buying into that.”
St. James will be back in action on Friday, Dec. 15 with a trip to Union.