By Jason Maholy
When Richards hosted St. Laurence on Dec. 17, the matchup featured a clash of contrasting styles.
The Bulldogs are big, long, physical and athletic, and prefer to get the ball into the paint.
The Vikings are comparably small and quick, and are content to let the ball fly from 3-point range the majority of the time.
The differences made for an interesting and exciting game, the result of which was in doubt until the final minute. In the end, St. Laurence edged Richards, 75-72, thanks to a barrage of treys that enabled them to overcome a 10-point halftime deficit.
Poor play by the Vikings on both ends of the floor and a 24-point second quarter for the Bulldogs led to a 41-31 halftime lead for Richards. The Bullldogs used their superior size and athleticism to score more than half their points in the paint, and the Vikings didn’t help themselves by repeatedly turning the ball over and playing sloppy interior defense that made for easy buckets in transition.
The second half was a different story, as St. Laurence’s run-and-gun style of play kicked worked to their advantage. It of course helps when the shots fall, and that they did for the Vikings, who hit eight 3-pointers in the third quarter to take a 56-55 lead, then hit four more in the fourth as they hung on for the win.
The 12 treys represented all of St. Laurence’s made field goals in the second half. For the game, they hit four two-point field goals and 16 3s. They also hit 19 of 22 free throws.
“We’ve been struggling lately,” said St. Laurence coach Jim Sexton. “We told them, there’s no coaching or magic potion for not making a shot, or not guarding, or not finishing off a defensive possession, so let’s just start doing what we normally do. And, obviously, we started to really shoot the ball the way we can.”
Sexton said the Vikings’ shot the ball better over the final 16 minutes than they had in any half this season, but he was prouder of their defensive effort after a lackluster first half.
“The defensive pressure, the good defense and the defensive rebounding and keeping [Richards] off the offensive boards; we did a much better job in the second half of just being tough,” he said. “We said right before we came out for the second half that as bad as we’ve been, we’re only down 10, we’ve just got to go one possession at a time. And we came out and we were really unselfish in the third quarter.”
Key to their success was ball movement that led to open rather than contested shots.
“We were able to kick it out and get some wide-open looks, as opposed to in traffic,” Sexton said. “Our guys definitely aren’t selfish, but they sometimes try to do too much.”
Senior guard Finn Walsh led the Vikings (8-3) with 23 points, including 10-of-12 from the charity. Walsh was one of five Vikings to hit at least three shots from long range.
Trey Davis had 15 points and Matthew McGuire had 12 points on a team-high four 3-pointers.
KaJuan Wines led Richards with 26 points, 16 of which came in the first half. Devin Jiles finished with 13 points and Albert Jones chipped in with 12.
The Bulldogs were 6-of-8 from the charity stripe.
Richards coach Chris Passafiume knew his team would be challenged to contain the smaller, faster Vikings.
“They just shot the heck out of it, to be honest,” he said. “They have active guards that can get to the rim, so we tried to keep them in front of us. We were hoping they’d be cold, but they weren’t.”
Passafiume acknowledged the Bulldogs got away from what worked for them in the first half, namely pounding the ball inside; but he added that Richards did have opportunities to score.
“We tried to draw stuff up to get our guys looks inside like we were successful doing in the first half, and I think we kind of caught up in the track meet and went way from getting those guys touches inside. But we had some tired legs and missed some shots we normally hit. We were getting good looks, high percentage shots, they just didn’t go in tonight.”
The Bulldogs (6-3) are a senior led group, but still trying to find their identity, Passafiume said.
“This group has to learn how to win, and I think they’ll get there,” he added. “We have high hopes for this group.”
Richards rebounded three nights later with a 79-67 win over Hillcrest. The Hawks came into that game 5-2, with their only losses to highly touted Bloom and Curie.