DANVERS, Mass. –- St. John’s Prep answered plenty of question on Wednesday, a much needed accomplishment following an offseason that saw plenty of shuffling around in the program.
How would the Eagles (1-0) respond in John Dullea’s first year at the helm? Could Ben Judson be the team leader after being a role player last year? Can Lowell transfer Kareem Davis make a quick and painless transition at his new school?
Consider those questions answered, as Judson (25 points), Davis (19 points), and sixth-man Mike Bisson (13 points, 11 rebounds) combined for 57 of the Eagles’ 67 points on their way to a 67-60 victory over Lynn Classical (0-1).
And as for Dullea, Prep’s newly-hired head coach managed to brush off some of the opening game jitters:
"I was definitely nervous. I’ve been here, but it’s a different level from when you’re an assistant coach to a head coach," Dullea said. "The anxiety, the nerves leading up to the game, you have to be ready to make a call, make a play in the spur of the moment."
Judson got off to quick-start in the first half, helping the Eagles jump out to a 24-8 lead in the second quarter. A lights-out shooter who has now shown that he can also score off the dribble, Judson is taking on the role of emotional leader this year for the Prep, a role previously occupied by last year’s senior captain Drex Costello.
"I’m just trying to be a leader for everyone else and help out the younger guys; adding to my game too -- mid-range, post game, driving to the hoop more and not just catching and shooting," Judson said. "I’m looking to do a little of everything this year offensively and defensively too."
Despite being down by 16 at one point early on, Classical was able to climb back into the game on the shoulders of senior guard Phil Rogers (17 points). Thanks to their ability to move the ball and pull down offensive rebounds, the Rams pulled within nine points at halftime and at one point brought the lead down to 55-53 following a 7-0 run anchored by Jordan Brown and Ronnie Williams (12 points).
"They’re a very physical team, a very athletic team," Dullea said. "They weren’t running too many sets, they were just beating us one-on-one. They made some tough shots. I give them credit, they made a ton of tough shots. We pride ourselves on defense, I admit it wasn’t our best effort tonight, we’ll get better at it.
"We had a couple lapses: guys didn’t know who they were covering, [Classical] had 20 offensive rebounds, which we cannot have, we won’t win if we do that."
The Eagles, in search of a spark, found it in Davis and Bisson. The sixth-man who was a rarely-used reserve on last year’s roster, Bisson finished with a double-double and hit some tough shots for the Eagles from all over the floor.
"He’s long, he’s going to usually have a bigger guy covering him," Dullea said. "He’s very versatile; we talked to him at the beginning of the year about his role as the sixth man. He’s a very athletic player, a very versatile player, he’s very hard to cover. We’re looking for big things from Mike, he had a good game tonight."
Finishing 10-of-11 from the free throw line and taking on the responsibilities of the primary ball handler in the Prep offense, Davis proved to be the most experienced player on the floor. Despite struggling to hit from three, Davis still managed to dribble in the paint nearly at will; his slick crossover dribble often drew “ooh’s” and “aah’s” from the home crowd.
Davis penetrated the Classical defense with 58 seconds to go in the game and finished an acrobatic lay-in off the glass to put the Prep lead at 62-55, all but sealing the victory for the Eagles.
"He was tremendous. He’s going to have the ball in his hands most of the time at the end of the game, he’s going to get to the foul line, and he’s going to have to step up and make them," Dullea said. "Every time we tried to run a set, he was the floor leader for us. A couple turnovers at the beginning; I think he was probably just a little nervous playing his first game here. But he was terrific, he really was."
There are many improvements to be made, a point Dullea hit on after the game, but the Eagles certainly have reason to be optimistic after answering the call on a night where nervousness ran rampant before the game. Behind their first-year head coach, talented transfer point guard, energized sixth-man with infrequent experience, and role player turned budding star, the Eagles look like a team built to be one of the best in Division 1.
"Mike stepped up tonight, a lot. Last year he didn’t play a whole lot but this year he knows he has a big role. Kareem, he was attacking off the dribble and that just opens everything up on the court," Judson said. "Us three attacking the basket, they couldn’t really stop that. I don’t know many teams who will be able to, but we need to just keep doing that."