A week full of snow didn’t allow for a single boys basketball practice at Southeast heading into Friday night’s game at Kapaun Mount Carmel. The Buffaloes wasted no time reacquainting themselves with the basket.
Southeast scored the first 12 points of the game and fought off an impressive effort from Kapaun’s Thomas O’Connor in an 81-65 Buffalo win.
A different starting five from Southeast coach Melvin Herring meshed well early. All five starters contributed offensively in the 12-0 run.
“We mixed things up a little bit to give some guys a chance, and also to just make sure we didn’t burn out our legs,” Herring said. “We didn’t have a practice, so I wanted to make sure we didn’t burn out.”
After the starting five, led by senior point guard E.J. Garnes, built the big lead, Herring brought in five substitutes with sophomore guard Jerrick Harding leading the new group. Kapaun responded with an 8-0 run that put the home team back in the game.
O’Connor only took one shot in the first quarter – a miss – but exploded for 12 points in the second and 15 more in the third. Kapaun trailed by five at halftime, and erased the entire deficit quickly thanks to O’Connor’s hot hand. The junior shooting guard scored 11 points in 97 seconds of the third quarter to give the Crusaders a 42-38 lead.
O’Connor finished with 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting, including eight three-pointers.
“He’s a great shooter,” Southeast center Jordan Murdock said. “We had to learn to play defense on him as a team. We made some adjustments switching on the screens, and that helped.”
Garnes, who had the primary defensive assignment on O’Connor, limited his touches in the fourth quarter. Kapaun’s leading scorer had just three points in the final nine minutes, and Southeast turned a six-point lead to start the fourth quarter into a 16-point blowout.
“You’re looking at an experienced team and a team without much experience, and we’re the team still trying to figure it out,” Kapaun coach John Cherne said. “It hasn’t clicked yet.”
Kapaun’s post players struggled to deal with Murdock, who overpowered any challengers in the paint. The 6-foot-3 senior finished with 20 points and did it from all over the court. He took advantage of a tightly called game with a perfect 7 for 7 effort at the free throw line, spread his offense evenly over all four quarters and even hit a three-pointer from the top of the key in the second quarter.
“We expect all of our big guys to get in there and battle and not be pushed around,” Herring said. “Jordan, Reagan (Oyugi), Octavious (Loudermilk). All those guys have to be ready.”
The three post players combined for 36 points. Kapaun’s post players – starter Nick Auer and reserves Joe Hickerson and Michael Lickteig – combined for 14.