The St. James boys basketball team continued their tough grind through their home tournament on Wednesday, Jan. 16 when they faced off against Salem. Both teams were fresh off a game the night before and it showed in a rough first half for both sides. After the half, it was all St. James, as the Tiger offense absolutely exploded in an 82-54 win.
The Tigers were ice cold in the first half on Tuesday night, as they were held scoreless for the first two minutes of the game. They were able to get their offense going a bit as the first quarter went on, but it wasn't because they were able to get much to fall. St. James dominated the offensive glass throughout the game, which opened the door for second chance looks. Andrew Branson put a cherry on top of the first quarter with a three, which gave the Tigers a 16-12 lead at the end of the opening quarter.
Austin Ridenhour opened the second quarter with a three, but after that the same issues cropped up. St. James couldn't get shots to fall consistently in the quarter, but they were able to maintain a lead throughout the quarter. Salem tied the game at 23 with two minutes to play in the quarter, but back to back threes from Branson and Logan Chick gave the lead right back to St. James. Reese Dodson knocked down a three at the buzzer for Salem, however, to bring the score to 30-27 at the half.
After grinding through a rough shooting performance in the first half, the Tigers found their stroke in the second half. Ridenhour opened the second half with a pair of threes for St. James, before another four points from Branson. St. James started the third quarter on a 14-2 run and they never looked back. The Tiger defense also stepped up in the second half, which led to easy buckets on the offensive end. St. James exploded for 28 points in the third quarter, nearly matching their entire offensive output from the first half. Tate Whitener finished off the quarter with a bucket to give the Tigers a 58-37 lead heading into the fourth.
St. James kept rolling in the fourth, scoring the first six points of the quarter. The Tigers ran away with the game in the fourth, extending their lead to as many as 30 points. Chick finished the game on an absolute tear, knocking down a trio of threes to finish off an excellent performance. Whitener added seven points in the quarter, as St. James ran away with an 82-54 win.
The win was certainly a game of two halves for St. James, as they shot just 27 percent from the field in the opening half before jumping up to making 58 percent of their shots in the second half. St. James head coach Ben Smith said the biggest change was their intensity on the defensive end.
"I don't think our intensity level was where it needed to be, truthfully," said coach Smith on the first half against Salem. "I don't wanna say we were playing at a slo-mo pace, but we weren't playing with a sense of urgency. We talked about it and that's what we have to do to score, out offense feeds off of our defense and then out defense starts to feed off of our offense when we start to hit shots.
"I thought we did a much better job in the second half too of making the extra pass and finding the open man," continued Smith. "I thought we got a little frustrated early attacking inside against against those big bodies and not finishing. I thought we settled in and hit some shots."
Rebounding played a huge role in the win for St. James, as offensive boards helped their offense stay afloat in the rough first half. The Tigers had 32 rebounds as a team in the win. Coach Smith said rebounding has been a point of emphasis for the last few weeks and St. James is starting to see the results of good rebounding.
"That's going to be the key, truthfully, ball pressure, defensive rebounding and then taking care of the basketball and taking good shots. If we do those three things, we'll play well," said coach Smith. "We have to expend a tremendous amount of energy to do that, because we're not very big and sometimes the energy isn't necessarily there, but they found it tonight.
"They're starting to understand that if we want to be successful and if we want to do the things we think we can do this year, these are the areas we have to clean up and I think they did a good job of that," continued the Tiger head coach.
Whitener had one of his best performances of the season in the win. The senior forward scored 12 points, while leading the team with seven rebounds. That was exactly the performance coach Smith wanted to see out of his starting forward.
"Tate played awesome tonight," said Smith. "I really thought, as much as anything, he almost sparked us a lot in the second half because he was making such energy plays. He was battling down there, getting guys second and third chances and then cleaning up their misses. He's having to battle every night and battle guys five or six inches taller than him and that's tough. Tonight I thought he did an exceptional job and I really do think it was his best game of the year."
St. James had great performances across the board. Branson kept the Tigers afloat in the first half and finished with 28 points go along with five assists. Recker had a great all-around performance with 15 points and six rebounds, while guarding Salem's top scorer on the defensive end. Chick also added 15 points, hitting five threes for the second consecutive game. Ridenhour knocked down a trio of threes for nine points, while Issac Helterbrand added three points. Mason Parker didn't score, but he led the team in steals with four, while dishing out five assists and grabbing six rebounds.
Recker has let Branson take over as the primary scorer for St. James this season, but he was a huge spark for St. James on both ends of the court. Coach Smith was proud of the way he stepped up in the win.
"He was outstanding on the defensive end, taking (Dodson) away in the second half," said the Tiger head coach. "He just bore down and that led to him getting some easy buckets. Then he hit some tough shots and we were able to go to him in the high post and let him work a little bit. When he's going, we're significantly better and I was glad to see that. I really thought our seniors did a good job of stepping up."
The Tigers don't have an easy road, despite being on the left side of the bracket. St. James will face Licking, who enters the game as the seventh ranked team in Class 3, in the consolation championship game on Friday. Licking defeated the St. James JV 67-32 in the other consolation game. The consolation championship will be the first game of the night at 5:00.