WEST ROXBURY, Mass. -- Guilien Smith simply would not let his team lose.
The Catholic Memorial Knights (15-1) extended their winning streak to 11 games with an 89-80 victory over St. John’s Prep, but the story may have been different if not for the efforts of their senior captain.
Smith played limited minutes during the first half due to foul trouble, but Brandon Twitty (26 points) and Kellen Grady (18 points) kept the Eagles at arms length, as the Knights took a 48-38 lead into halftime.
Catholic Memorial opened the second half with a 9-0 flurry, but that wasn’t enough to dispatch a determined Eagles squad. Skilled ball-handlers such as Kareem Davis, Tyson Johnson, and Ben Judson broke the Knights’ vaunted press repeatedly, as Prep trimmed the deficit to single digits.
Yet every time the Eagles got close, Smith provided a response. The ESPN Boston Preseason All-State Selection scored 12 of the Knights’ 19 points in the third quarter, and dropped 22 of his game-high 28 points over the final two frames.
“He really willed us to victory in the second half,” Knights head coach Denis Tobin said about the 6-foot-1 senior guard. “Brandon [Twitty] did a great job of getting us the lead in the first half, but with Matt Hanna in foul trouble as well, Kellen [Grady] got a little tired bringing the ball up the court. Because of his early foul trouble, Guilien [Smith] came in fresh, and determined.”
Smith showed impressive patience on the offensive end, and used a quick first step to attack the basket repeatedly. He was also huge on the defensive end, as he helped box out the Eagles numerous big men, and took a key charge on 6-foot-4 forward Jake Burt in the third quarter.
“Guilien’s only 6-foot-1, but because of his great base, and leaping ability, it seems like he’s taller,” said Tobin. “He’s just got a great knack for the ball. We’ve got a lot of guys that chip in on the boards, and we may not have a big monster down there, but we get the job done.”
Slowed By Snow: Most teams come into Catholic Memorial’s Ronald S. Perry Gymnasium, and are immediately affected by the atmosphere, and the Knights full-court pressure. However, the Eagles were prepared for their conference foes, and broke that press for 12 fast break points, as they trailed 20-18 after one quarter.
“We’re pretty familiar with this team, so we knew what to expect,” said Eagles head coach John Dullea. “Their press wasn’t a big problem for us- the biggest problem was getting stops. They have so many different weapons, and so many different scorers that they’re tough to contain.”
The Knights came into this contest having won nine home games by an average margin of 27.3 points this season, so Tobin was a bit surprised to see his players struggle at the outset of this contest, even though they were facing another top-ranked team.
“I thought both teams were a little rusty to start due to the snow, and the disrupted practice schedule,” said Tobin. “We were sluggish at first, and for whatever reason, our press was a step slow, so as the game went along we pulled the pressure back slightly because they were breaking it so well.”
St. John’s Prep scored fewer fast break points in each subsequent quarter, as Catholic Memorial found a way to keep the Eagles out of transition.
For Dullea and his team, the result was disappointing, but the fact that they remained competitive in a tough environment is something to build upon.
“We don’t mind playing at their pace, but we missed a few shots early on, and hopefully we get to see [Catholic Memorial] again in the state tournament,” Dullea said.
Catholic Memorial 89, St. John’s Prep 80
CM 20 28 19 22 --- 89
SJP 18 20 17 25 --- 80
Catholic Memorial – Guilien Smith (28 points, 9 rebounds)
Catholic Memorial – Kellan Grady (18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists)
Catholic Memorial – Brandon Twitty (26 points, 5 of 7 from 3PT range)
St. John’s Prep – Tyson Johnson (16 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists)
St. John’s Prep – Jake Burt (7 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists)
St. John’s Prep – Kareem Davis (18 points, 2 steals)