DANVERS, Mass. -– It may not have not been their best basketball, and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but fifth-ranked St. John’s Prep was able to escape upset-minded Catholic Memorial at home on Tuesday night, 60-57.
The Eagles, now 10-0 overall, had a hard time getting anything to fall in the first quarter. Guilien Smith (20 points) came out of the gates firing for the Knights, while 6-foot-8 center Gerard Adams added his presence early on underneath. Thanks to their stellar offensive execution, the Knights ended the first quarter up 18-5.
But Drex Costello wouldn’t stand for that.
The senior, who wasn’t allowed the play the first quarter for disciplinary reasons, provided exactly the spark that the struggling Eagles needed in the first half. He came in and made his first four shots, including two 3-pointers, and St. John’s Prep was able to bring the game within one by halftime.
“We didn’t come out with energy, but you have to give CM credit, they came in with a very good game plan against us,” Prep coach Sean Connolly said, “We picked it up, and we played a lot harder in the second, third, and fourth quarters.”
Costello’s enthusiasm: Costello finished with 17 points in all, and also pulled down seven rebounds for the Eagles. Ben Judson and Josh Syska (10 rebounds) each scored eight points, but neither was a consistent presence in the scoring category. Despite that though, Connolly credits Prep’s stellar defensive effort after the first quarter, an effort that has become expected of this year’s Prep team.
“Just defensively [Drex] is very good, he’s a good rebounder, he’s a tough, physical kid. He just brings the toughness for us,” Connolly said.
From his body language on the bench, the first quarter was nerve-wracking for Costello. Needless to say, he was excited to come in and pick up his struggling teammates.
“I just wanted to come out there with a log of energy and get our team back in the game, we were down by 13 points so we needed a spark,” he said. “We came out a little flat. I came out right away and got fouled, got to the line to shoot two foul shots, it’s good as a shooter to see the ball go in.”
Defending Guilien Smith: Catholic Memorial’s sophomore guard Guilien Smith has quickly become one of the state’s best scorers. He may not be a hair over 6-foot, but he makes difficult shots that most players can’t make. He’s crafty around the rim, and his jumpshot mechanics are textbook. Scoring 20 points in all, he was the main point of concern for Prep coming in.
Six-foot-8 center Gerard Adams was also a player Prep keyed on defensively. The big man has given other teams a tough time all years because of his strength and ability to finish around the rim.
“We tried to [defend them], but they’re two very good players.," Connolly said. "We tried to not let them get the ball where they wanted to, but it’s tough to stop those guys, we just tried to stop them the best we could.”
Costello said word has already gotten around to teams about the breakout year that Smith is having, the sophomore has torched some of Eastern Mass.’ best teams so far this season.
“I heard Guilien had scored like 30 points in a few other games, so I knew he was legit," he said. "I just came out and tried to get in his head because I knew he was going to be a good scorer. He had a really good game. The big guy, I don’t know how you can prepare for a 6-foot-8, 300 pounder, he’s just huge. I think our big guys did a pretty good job keeping him off the block, and just making him uncomfortable basically."
Preaching depth and defense: Both of these teams legitimately go ten guys deep, but the scoring off the bench for Prep was huge in staging their comeback.
“Depth’s definitely there this year, it’s nice that we have guys coming off the bench who can score like Max Burt and Quentin [Bullen]," Costello said. "It’s helpful to the starters to have that consistent scoring off the bench.”
Connolly was able to put in several different lineup combinations to keep Smith off the ball, and also give Syska and Max Butterbrodt a rest from holding down Adams on the low post. Ball-pressure was big too, Catholic Memorial is a rather inexperienced team and the Eagles were able to force over 20 turnovers, many of which came from the backcourt.
“Defensively, we’re just a really good all-around pressure teams," Costello said on pressuring CM's guards. "We like getting into people, making them turn the ball over. It’s something we’ve been doing all season, we do it in practice continuously , so we’re pretty used to it and when we get into a game we just like doing it.”
He added, “I really think we just came out flat. We just didn’t have the energy we wanted in the first quarter. Because it’s a conference game, I knew we were going to step up at some point.”