SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- St. Mark’s (Southborough, Mass.) forward Nik Stauskas had an epiphany while he sat inside the Lions’ locker room at halftime of their game against Friends' Central (Wynnewood, Pa.).
“If we could just continue getting the ball inside to Kaleb (Tarczewski) things would be a lot easier,” said Stauskas, a senior who is signed to Michigan. “That’s what we focused on. That’s where I felt we’d have the best chance to win.”
Tarczewski, a 7-foot senior, scored 22 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead the Lions past the Phoenix 67-57 Sunday at the Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass.
Stauskas chipped in with 16 points and Jaymie Spears added 15 for the Lions. Conrad Chambers led the Phoenix with 19 points.
“They didn’t have much size down there and we knew that working inside-out was the best plan,” said Tarczewski, an Arizona signee who is ranked No. 6 in the ESPNU 100. “Amile (Jefferson) was their tallest player (6-foot-9) and he picked up two fouls early and they left him in so he was trying not to foul out. That’s when we really started rolling.”
The Lions jumped ahead early behind the hot hand of Spears, who drained two 3-pointers in the first quarter to give St. Mark’s a 14-11 lead.
The Lions extended their matchup zone in the second quarter, which wreaked havoc on the Phoenix and Tarczewski and Stauskas combined to score 11 points in the final two minutes of the half to give the Lions a 32-24 lead.
St. Mark's forced eight first-half turnovers.
“We really buckled down defensively and forced them into situations where they weren’t as comfortable,” Stauskas said. “I felt like we would have to turn up our defensive pressure even more in the second half.”
The Lions started punishing Friends' Central in the paint in the third quarter, pumping the ball inside to Tarczewski who, often times, managed to either get fouled or finish with an easy layup or dunk.
Then midway through the fourth quarter, Spears swiped a steal from Karonn Davis and took it the other way for the score and came back on the next play and drained a three to extend the Lions’ lead to an insurmountable 13 points.
“They’re a tough team and obviously Kaleb is a big body down there,” said Jefferson, a senior forward who is ranked No. 24 in the ESPNU 100. “That gave us a lot of problems all game, but we continued to fight. We definitely could’ve played a lot better, but I was proud of my team for continuing to fight.”