By Jeremy Balan
This season’s Sacred Heart Cathedral boys basketball team is a new-look Irish squad, but early in West Catholic Athletic League play, the results have been better than last year’s edition.
With a 46-40 win over visiting Bellarmine on Friday night, the Irish are tied for first place with defending champion Mitty after the first week of league play.
That new look, without standout graduated forwards Joshua Fox and Taylor Johns, wasn’t always a good look on Friday.
The Irish (9-3, 2-0) shot just 29 percent from the floor and didn’t have a player score in double figures, but eight players scored and six had five points or more, led by nine from junior guard DeOndre Otis.
While the Sacred Heart offense was inefficient at times, the difference in the game’s final moments was the Irish defense. After senior Jackson Gion hit a three-pointer to give Bellarmine (10-2, 0-2) a 39-37 lead with 4:13 left in the fourth quarter, the Irish held the Bells without a field goal and to just a single point for the rest of the game. The defensive stand allowed Sacred Heart to take back the lead for good and finish the game on a 9-1 run.
“In this league, it doesn’t matter how you win or what it looks like,” said Sacred Heart head coach Darrell Barbour. “Everyone wants instant gratification and wants everything to look pretty. In this league, it’s not about looking pretty, it’s about getting a [win] . . . This team found a way to win.”
Sacred Heart senior guards Khalil James and Herman Pratt, as well as junior forward Liam O’Reilly, all had a limited impact offensively – Pratt struggled with foul trouble early and finished with seven points, while James had a poor shooting night and O’Reilly had some issues finishing around the basket against Bellarmine’s tall frontcourt defenders – but each contributed outside of the scoresheet.
O’Reilly brought in a team-high nine rebounds and added two blocks, Pratt had three steals and James doled out four assists, but one play best exemplified the good and the bad of the Irish performance on Friday night and it came at a crucial moment.
With under a minute remaining and the Irish clinging to a 42-40 lead, James drove past a Bellarmine defender and went up for a contested, running jump shot in the lane with Pratt wide open in the right-hand corner, eager to attempt a three-pointer. James’ shot missed and was rebounded by the Bells, but seconds later, the senior snuck behind a Bellarmine ball handler and stole the ball back with 48 seconds remaining.
“That’s a play that he’s gotta make. He’s gotta make that pass and that’s a pass he normally makes,” Barbour said of James’ initial decision to shoot and not pass. “But if you look at him and Herman, they embody what I want in this program – to do whatever it takes to be successful. So that [following] play is what we have to make, because that’s us.”
With possession back, the Irish knocked down their final four free throws – two apiece from Otis and sophomore David Parsons – to put the game out of reach. Although the Irish had a stretch of free-throw misses, they hit 5-of-6 in the fourth quarter and 14-of-22 overall, while the Bells made just 7-of-14.
Sacred Heart also won the turnover battle in the second half. Bellarmine committed nine turnovers after the halftime break, while the Irish had just three.
“Close games come down to defensive rebounds, taking care of the ball and making free throws.” said Bellarmine head coach Patrick Schneider. “Sacred Heart was three-for-three in the close-game contest.”
Bellarmine actually shot better than the Irish (33 percent from the floor) and senior guard Grant Vermeer had a game-high 11 points, but was largely outplayed by Sacred Heart in the first half. What the Irish struggled to do throughout was distance themselves when the Bells were most vulnerable. Sacred Heart’s largest lead was seven points late in the second quarter, but Vermeer cut the Irish lead to 24-20 at the halftime break with a deep three-pointer in the final seconds.
“From our standpoint, if you’re missing the shots you should be making – that keeps their confidence intact,” Barbour said. “When that kid makes that three, it’s a whole different mindset going into the half. My concerns were the momentum shifts, because we had them on the ropes.”
Sacred Heart Cathedral
DeOndre Otis – 9
Evan Davison – 8
Herman Pratt – 7
Yanoj Jackson – 6
Liam O’Reilly – 6
Grant Vermeer – 11
Jackson Gion – 9
Isaac Gayles – 5
Jack O’Hara – 5
Dylan Tarpening – 5