By Jeremy Balan
The St. Ignatius boys basketball team’s defensive strategy against rival Sacred Heart Cathedral in front of a capacity crowd at the University of San Francisco on Tuesday was simple.
Let the Irish shoot.
The Wildcats sagged off the Sacred Heart guards and let them take open looks on the perimeter, and the strategy worked, allowing St. Ignatius to take back the Bruce-Mahoney trophy with a 56-46 win.
Sacred Heart (9-4, 2-1) shot 2-of-16 overall and 0-of-8 in the first half from three-point range, while the Wildcats (11-2, 2-1) hit 7-of-13 attempts from distance. If not for two second-half three-pointers from Sacred Heart senior point guard Khalil James, the Irish would have missed all of their attempts from beyond the arc.
“We wanted to keep them outside,” said St. Ignatius senior guard Albert Waters, who hit two three-pointers of his own and had a team-high 12 points. “This is a college-level three-point line, so our idea was to keep them out there and let them shoot. If we let them drive, that would give us trouble.”
Waters, also a key part of the Wildcats’ win in the football leg of the Bruce-Mahoney series, added three steals and four rebounds, and was one of three St. Ignatius shooting guards that hit multiple three-pointers, along with seniors Daniel MacLean-Vernic and Matt Brown, who was the only other St. Ignatius player to score in double figures with 11 points.
“It is hard to shoot in this gym,” said St. Ignatius head coach Tim Reardon. “That’s why it’s ridiculous that we made seven threes. The line is back a little bit farther and this backdrop makes it really difficult . . . If we didn’t shoot like that, they’re going to beat us.”
The Irish appeared to be ready for the task early in the game and held a lead until St. Ignatius point guard Trevor Dunbar scored the final six points of the first quarter to give the Wildcats a 14-8 advantage that they would not relinquish.
Dunbar was in control early, but only had two points after that first quarter. He still contributed throughout and had a game-high five assists, but the Wildcats got their scoring from several different sources at key moments.
Waters was the only St. Ignatius player to score in every quarter, but each starter had a moment to shine. Dunbar had his one-man show late in the first quarter, Brown hit back-to-back three-pointers in the final minute of the second, MacLean-Vernic hit two threes in the first half despite battling foul trouble and junior forward Julian Marcu scored seven of his nine total points in the fourth.
While St. Ignatius was getting contributions from multiple sources, the Irish never seemed to settle in after losing their early lead. Sacred Heart senior guard Herman Pratt led the Irish with 12 points, including six in the fourth quarter, but they never got closer than a three-point margin, which came early in the second half.
“It wasn’t about strategy,” said Sacred Heart head coach Darrell Barbour. “I never know how my kids are going to play in this game. We come in here 2-0, playing pretty good. The atmosphere, the culture of this whole thing – it’s just different. You can’t compare it to anything. If you don’t handle that, which we did not, you will not play well.”
Sacred Heart was better at the free-throw line (they were 8-for-10 at the line, while St. Ignatius was 5-for-9), outrebounded the Wildcats (35-34) and committed less turnovers (15-13), but the Irish trailed in the most important statistical category – putting the ball in the basket. The Irish seemed overeager at times on offense and shot just 33 percent from the floor overall and 28 percent in the second half, while St. Ignatius made 52 percent of its shot attempts after the halftime break.
“We played with no poise, we played with no discipline and that is my fault, because that is something that my teams do,” Barbour said. “I thought we played hard, but the poise and discipline was nowhere to be seen tonight. That’s disappointing for me, because that’s something I try to hang my hat on as a coach.”
Albert Waters – 12
Matt Brown – 11
Julian Marcu – 9
Trevor Dunbar – 8
Two players tied with six points
Sacred Heart Cathedral
Herman Pratt – 12
Khalil James – 10
Liam O’Reilly – 8
DeOndre Otis – 5
David Parsons – 5