Hoophall: St. Thomas More (Conn.) 71, WMA 60

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Sluggish starts have plagued St. Thomas More the last several games, and it looked like that trend was going to continue in the opening minutes of their battle with Wilbraham & Monson in today's Hoophall Classic.

Then, in a snap, the Chancellors turned a five-point deficit into a double-digit lead, going on a 21-5 run after starting the game trailing 9-4. From there, they never looked back, beating the Titans 71-60 to get some retribution after losing in this tournament a year ago.

"We were coming off a two-game winning streak," said STM's Ky Howard, who was named the game's Most Valuable Player after recording 16 points and four assists. "We had a chip on our shoulder. We came out slow, Coach [Jere Quinn] got into us and told us to pick it up. As a team, together, we did, and from there it just took off."

The key to the run was transition play. Though it sounds awkward to say, considering they count 7-foot-2 Sudanese center Chier Ajou (14 points, six rebounds) in their lineup, the Chancellors aren't incredibly big by prep school standards. So when the shot went up, the Chancellors' guards pushed the ball upcourt as quickly as possible, leading to some easy baskets.

"That was very important," Howard said. "We're a small team, so our advantage is running, if we don't run then it's useless to have a five-guard offense in the game."

Then again, it's not so bad having a 7-footer in the lane to clean things up. Defensively, the Chancellors funneled things into the lane, where Ajou used his wingspan and lateral quickness to alter some shots and otherwise force second thoughts.

"It's truly great, it's a blessing that we got a 7-2 kid that's not selfish, just wants to play and help us win. I mean, it's great because if any of us get beat he's there to protect us."

Offensively, Ajou's presence helped open up the middle of the floor. It isn't often a big man with his combination of stamina and athleticism can come out behind the three-point line, or step out to the elbow. That led to some great drives throughout the game from Howard, A.J. English (11 points, five assists) and Denzel Gregg (11 points, six rebounds).

"Because he can come out to the perimeter, that has the defense shifting a lot more," Howard said. "With us, as guards, we cut hard, fast and sharp, and with him coming out it opens up the lane for us."

Springfield native Jaylen Brantley had a showing in front of his home crowd for WMA (8-2) that in some areas was quality (14 points) but in other areas forgettable (one assist to six turnovers). Kamali Bey, another Springfield native, led WMA with 16 points, while Marcel Pettway also chipped in with 13 points and a team-high nine rebounds.