SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – After St. Mark’s 73-69 loss to Life Center Academy (N.J) Sunday at the Hoophall Classic, Lions head coach David Lubick emerged from the locker room with a rhetorical question: “Who wants to talk about defense?”
While St. Mark’s played better team defense in the second half against the Warriors, the Lions had to dig themselves out of deficits of six points at halftime and 13 points in the third quarter to get back in the game.
And although St. Mark’s made the final minute of the game entertaining, Lubick couldn’t help but feel his team was done in by their first-half performance by LaQuinton Ross, who scored 21 of his game-high 26 points in the first half, and put the Lions behind the 8-ball.
“It wasn’t about him [Ross], it was about the other guys,” Lubick said. “We thought if we could make them put the ball on the floor quicker they wouldn’t be able to operate and have the opportunity to get him the ball. We were trying to deny him the ball all game.”
The Lions (12-2) made their halftime adjustments in the second half, slowing Ross — the Ohio State signee — and the Warriors enough to climb back into the game in the fourth quarter.
St. Mark’s made their final charge with about three minutes remaining. Freshman guard Kevin Zabo (15 points) knocked down his fifth 3-pointer of the game to get the Lions within one at 65-64. After a defensive stand on the other end, Nik Stauskas showed off his deft shooting touch with a trey to give St. Mark’s a 67-65 lead with 2:50 remaining. Stauskas led the Lions with 24 points.
However, Life Center reclaimed the lead with some clutch free throw shooting from Pitt signee John Johnson (14 points).
The Lions had a couple more opportunities to reclaim the lead within the final minute, but when those shots fell short, the Warriors escaped with the victory.
“When Nik [Stauskas] hit that three, I thought that was the game right there,” said St. Mark’s junior forward Alex Murphy, who was limited to a rather pedestrian nine points. “But things turned, they hit a couple big shots and knocked down some free throws.”
Murphy spent some of his afternoon tangling with Ross on the defensive end. Meanwhile, fellow 2012 ESPNU Super 60 recruit Kaleb Tarczewski showed off his shot-blocking prowess. The 7-foot center finished one block short of a triple-double while scoring 11 points and pulling down 12 rebounds.
“Basically, we believe that we’ve got to determine what happens in the defensive end because we believe we’re good enough to win most game we play in, offensively,” Lubick said. “We were in a position to win, but we shouldn’t have been in that position. We should have been closer, or even ahead after the first half.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Murphy, the No. 6 overall prospect in the Class of 2012 according to ESPNU, along with Tarczewski (No. 24 overall for 2012) are typically the objects of attention when they walk in the gym. They’re no strangers to playing in front of A-listers, such as Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who arrived during the first half of St. Mark’s game. After adding that he’s set no timeline to his own recruitment, which is comprised of a laundry list of top Division 1 programs, Murphy reflected on his brother Erik’s experience in the lead up to his decision to play at Florida. “It’s helped me a lot seeing him go through it,” the South Kingstown, R.I. native said, “sitting in the back seat going through the whole thing. Seeing what it’s like has definitely helped.”
The next hot recruit to come out of St. Mark’s could be Zabo. A shifty, 6-2 guard, Zabo showed a consistent stroke, hitting on 5 of 8 3-point attempts. “He’s a tremendous player and, as a freshman, he has unlimited potential,” Lubick said.