The St. Mary's High School basketball team stresses its defense, but its offense can be eye-popping.
The 12-0 St. Mary's Dragons are averaging 69 points a game, scoring a high of 107 points against Riverview Gardens Nov. 25 and a low of 56 against Lafayette Dec. 27. The wins have stacked up against quality opponents — 78-72 against CBC and 61-58 against Borgia last month. The icing on the cake was a 60-57 win vs. St. Louis University High School Dec. 30 to take the championship of the Coaches vs. Cancer Holiday Tournament at St. Louis Community College at Meramec. SLUH and St. Mary's will face each other again Saturday, Jan. 7.
On Jan. 3, St. Mary's defeated Duchesne 64-49 in a home game of the AAA Conference. Duchesne's shots were off early while St. Mary's Yuri Collins hit three 3-point shots to help his team to a 22-6 lead after the first quarter. Duchesne fought back and trimmed the lead to two points before trailing 32-26 at halftime.
Coach Kelvin Lee reminded St. Mary's to focus on its defense. "I thought we got off to a big lead and got complacent," he said. "We got away from our defense. We took the pressure off."
He said that he's trying to keep his players "humble and hungry. ... If we do that, and we come out and play like we did in the first and third quarter, we're going to be hard to beat."
St. Mary's scored eight unanswered points to start the second half against Duchesne, thanks to Antonio Burks and Yahuza Rasas, who gained most of his 14 points by driving to the basket or battling for the ball underneath.
Lee is pleased that his team has depth this year, with good players from last year's junior varsity subbing to give the starters a rest. Last year's team won 21 games, but lacked that one ingredient. "When you have that kind of depth, you have the makings of a pretty good team," he said.
He began the season with activities to help the players bond and realize the "only team that can beat you is yourself," as Lee put it. "When they start thinking about themselves, being selfish, they stop playing defense. If we continue to put that pressure defensively, with the depth we have, we have a good team."
Burks, who scored nine points, said the fast-paced style the team's play means that the help from the substitutes is especially appreciated. "We have people coming off the bench like Donavanne (Austin), Lavelle (Harris) and Miles (Jones), a lot of good players off the bench, good varsity players who could be starting, but they give a lot of help and bring a lot of energy."
He agreed with his coach that the defense is the most important part of the team's game, and he saw where it could be improved in the Duchesne game. Offensively, he said, keys are moving the ball, looking for the players who are having a hot hand at shooting and getting the ball inside.
Austin, who had two points, two assists and two steals in the Duchesne game, said defense and effort are the keys to St. Mary's team. "We have to play as a team, nobody being selfish. That's going to help us win games," he said.
Basketball is fun because he's with his teammates, he said. "We just go out there and have fun."
Prayer is important to St. Mary's team. Lee sends his players quotes from Scripture each morning, and the players engage with it. "I keep pumping the Lord into them," he said. "That's important. Like I always tell them, the Lord placed me here to give you guys leadership and provide direction. You're playing for Him. The Lord is your head coach. He sacrificed His life so we could have what we have today."
Duchesne is 8-3 with wins over several good teams — Borgia, Ritenour, Trinity and Parkway Central. All the losses were all on the road, including to a good MICDS team, Quincy Notre Dame, currently ranked #3 in Class 2 in Illinois, and St Mary's.
"We are still relatively young, with no seniors, and we start all juniors," Duchesne Coach Wade Bouslog said. "We are a balanced team with three starters averaging double figures and another one just below that."
The team has good size, with five of the top seven at 6-4 or taller. It is a resilient group, coming back from deficits of 10 or more in four games and winning two games on last-second shots. "It is great group to be around, they are smart and really work hard during the season and in the offseason," Bouslog said. "Most of them have been playing together since they were very young."
Adam Moore led Duchesne with 15 points, and Mitch Fairless had 12 in the St. Mary's game.