SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- With its assembly of speed, power and Division-I commits, Hargrave Military Academy ran onto the Blake Arena floor and rarely stopped Sunday against St. Thomas More.
“They gave us a punch in the mouth,” center Andre Drummond said.
Then Drummond got one of his own.
Shaking off a knock to his recently repaired teeth, the 6-foot-11 dynamo shined in spurts at the 10th annual Hoophall Classic, but neither he nor the rest of the Chancellors had enough answers against a loaded Hargrave roster in a 78-58 loss on the Springfield College campus.
Drummond -- ranked first atop the Class of 2012 by ESPN and several other scouting outlets -- finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. He dazzled with a series of athletic plays and swats, and as easily the tallest player on the floor, controlled the boards when he wanted to.
But St. Thomas More never led, and it never crept to within closer than seven points in the second half as the Tigers -- behind Xavier-bound Dez Wells (20 points) and Virginia Tech commit C.J. Barksdale (16) -- pressured and dunked the Chancellors into submission.
“They certainly played tougher than us, they certainly played stronger than us, they were more physical than us,” said St. Thomas More coach Jere Quinn, whose team returned from holiday break on Monday. “I thought we would be ready to play. But we didn’t do our offense. We’re a team that usually likes to shoot 20, 25 3s. We didn’t get them off (settling for 13 attempts, hitting two).
“I’m stunned,” he later added. “I thought we’d play better.”
St. Thomas More appeared to find its footing after trailing, 25-14, at one point. But it took a scare for Drummond to do so.
The center, who lost a teeth in a game in mid-December, left briefly midway through the first half Sunday after he was hit in the mouth. He was doubled over for a few moments after taking a shot to the teeth in the offensive end, and returned to the bench holding his jersey over his mouth, though he didn’t require medical examination.
“It kind of shook me a little bit,” he said. “Just a sharp pain.”
It didn’t last long. Reinserting the mouth guard he’s worn since the Dec. 11 game in which he was elbowed -- sending an eye tooth flying across the gym floor -- Drummond was back in Sunday after only 1:17. He quickly took command, throwing home an alley-oop dunk to spark a 13-6 stretch that got the Chancellors within two, 33-31, with 2:20 to play in the half.
In that stretch, he also displayed his athleticism, dodging an attempted steal at mid-court with a behind-the-back dribble. Moments later, he took a pass near the 3-point line, and after his defender fell, dribbled in for a one-handed slam.
But as he has throughout Drummond’s year-and-a-half at the Oakdale-based prep school, Quinn has tried to coax Drummond into being more assertive and more specifically, demanding of the ball.
Even as Hargrave (Chatham, Va.) closed the first half on a 6-0 run and opened the second on a 15-6 spurt, Quinn was still calling for it, at one point late in the game yelling to Drummond, “Act like you want the ball.”
“When I demand the ball … I think I can be very good,” Drummond said. “But my weaknesses are I can get a little lazy on defense and offense. I need to get better at [not] doing that.
“I’m more a team player,” he continued. “I’d like to see my teammates score more than I do. That’s just the mentality that I have.”
Quinn applauds Drummond’s demeanor, calling him an “absolutely fantastic person,” but games like Sunday could have been a showcase for him with no one within three inches of him on Hargrave. The audience was littered with college coaches, most notably Kentucky’s John Calipari. One of Drummond’s most avid suitors, UConn, was represented by assistant coach and former NBA player, Kevin Ollie.
“I think Andre has the potential to be more dominant as a player. [But] I think Andre has to want to be more dominant as a player,” Quinn said. “And he fails to recognize his size and strength. He was by far the biggest kid on the court. I thought he could have been a more dominant presence on the baseline. … I don’t know how many times he just tries to let things happen. I would like him to ask for it.”
Still, Hargrave naturally made Drummond a focus, trying to “smother” him when he was backed in on the baseline, Wells said. The Tigers were certainly aware of him on the other end, too. After Drummond blocked a Wells jump shot into the Tigers’ bench on what could have been a goaltending call, Hargrave’s next few lay-up attempts in Drummond’s area flew high off the glass, the shooters clearly aware of the center’s big hand.
“He’s got a target on his back,” Quinn said of Drummond.
Hargrave gradually added to its lead in the second before Wells completely sunk St. Thomas More with back-to-back dunks.
Dribbling through the right side of the lane with 9:43 to play, the 6-foot-5 guard elevated before slamming in a violent one-handed dunk that made the arena come alive. But even before the murmurs in the stands could quiet, Wells again drew ‘oohs,’ this time grabbing a pass on the right wing and taking one dribble before throwing home another one-hander. Just four points, yes, but in the span of roughly a minute, Wells emphatically pushed the Tigers’ near 20 points, where it rarely teetered from in the final eight and a half minutes.
P.J. Hairston, a North Carolina commit, added 14 points, and Marquis Rankin, another future Virginia Tech player, added nine for Hargrave. Damion Lee was the only other Chancellor in double figures with 15 points.
ODDS AND ENDS
St. Thomas More plays again Monday against nationally ranked Quality Education Academy (Winston-Salem, N.C.) in the Big Apple Classic. The Chancellors will stay in Springfield on Sunday night before heading south starting at 8 a.m., Monday.
“The good thing about basketball is you don’t have to wait a week [to play again],” Quinn said.
There’s another side to the short turnaround. St. Thomas More couldn’t even get a full practice in Saturday because the school was re-finishing the gym floor.
Despite being the only non-post graduate student on Quinn’s post-grad team, Drummond said that isn’t a reason he sometimes steers from asking for the ball. But the disparity can create some funny moments for the 17-year-old. “Sometimes when I give guys advice, I feel kind of weird because they’re 19, 20 and I’m only 17 years old,“ he said. “So it is kind of weird.”
Adam Jones, a Fairfield commit, finished with two points and two rebounds in 22 minutes for St. Thomas More.
Amid a sea of other prep schools’ Nike or Reebok-sponsored gear in Springfield this weekend, Quinn found humor in the Chancellors’ simple blue knit hats with ‘St. Thomas More’ book-ended by two basketballs on the front. “You notice we’ve got the best ski caps out there,” he said.
COLEMAN LEADS JAMESVILLE-DEWITT
DaJuan Coleman put forth one of the most impressive performances of the Hoophall weekend in Jamesville-Dewitt (N.Y.) High School’s 76-64 victory over Webster Groves (St. Louis, Mo.), compiling 23 points and 20 rebounds.
The bruising 6-foot-10 center shot 8-of-11 from the field while adding a team-high five assists, juxtaposing hard moves in the post with end-to-end rushes in the open court with relative ease. Paired with Tyler Cavanaugh (26 points) in the block, he helped offset the play of Rayshawn Simmons (21 points) in a intense game from start to finish.
And no, Coleman is not the son of a former NBA star of similar name and stature.