By Bonta Hill
With the departures of standout players Noah Springwater and Zio Enriquez, combined with a slow start to the season, University’s boys basketball team may have been overlooked by some.
The underdog frame of mind that University head coach Randal Bessolo has been instilling into his team is starting to catch on, and the three-time defending Bay Counties League West champions are back on top again.
The Red Devils won their sixth-straight game Wednesday night, snapping visiting Stuart Hall’s ten-game winning streak in the process, with a 59-52 victory.
“I think we came in as the underdog and I think that was part of why we were able to jump out to an early lead,” Bessolo said. “We know we’re going to see them again, and we might end up seeing them a third and maybe fourth time, so this is nothing we can be satisfied about.”
The Red Devils (11-8, 3-0) committed seven second-half turnovers and the shot 37 percent from the floor, but University junior guard Chris Mah helped offset some of the late-game sloppiness.
Mah got into the paint frequently against the Knights (14-4, 2-1) and finished with a game-high 15 points. He also had an impact defensively, helping University’s press defense force Stuart Hall into 21 turnovers.
“We came in prepared and saw that Stuart Hall was ranked higher and had won ten in a row, so we just came into the game really focused on defense and slowing their defense down,” Mah said. “We were really focused on creating turnovers with our press.”
Stuart Hall tried to go blow-for-blow with University’s up-tempo offense early, but the Knights turned the ball over seven times in the first quarter and the Red Devils finished the frame on a 16-2 run.
Poor shooting also hampered the Knights, who shot just 32 percent from the floor, but they did have their moments.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Stuart Hall trailed 51-36, but went on a 7-0 run to cut the University lead to single digits.
Stuart Hall senior guard Laboyd Ricard started the run when he sank a 3-pointer, then on the ensuing defensive possession, freshmen Armani Collins came up with a steal that led to an easy finger roll by Ricard.
But Mah would answer with layups on back-to-back possessions, stretching the Devil lead to 55-43. Stuart Hall would again cut into the lead before the final buzzer, but could not entirely close the gap.
“As a team, we’ve come a long way from where we were at the first game of the season,” Bessolo said. “But throughout the season, Chris Mah has been a consummate point guard for us and makes great decisions. He really has the ability to [control] the game, and he did that tonight.”
Stuart Hall head coach Charles Johnson refused to comment after the game.
Chris Mah – 15
David Medoff – 13
Harold Getz – 9
James Burton – 8
Jack Gale – 8
Laboyd Ricard – 12
Cade McLaughlin – 12
Tim Connolly – 7
Armani Collins – 6
Rodney McKinney – 5