Tiger Basketball Earns Solid Win in Season Opener
The Saint Xavier Basketball team kicked off the regular season Tuesday night against the Central Yellowjackets, and it was a squeaker amid a hostile road environment.
But the Tigers handled the pressure from the crowd and the Jackets very well, and perfect execution late in the game led St. X to a resounding 69-64 victory, making this their second consecutive victory in the season opener.
The team secured the victory with methodical, consistent ball movement and tremendous poise when the action heated up. They didn’t need any flash or frills; St. X won by simply controlling what it could and taking advantage of every opportunity afforded.
With three new faces in the starting lineup, the final outcome of the game was anything but decided before tip-off. Juniors Connor McKim and Will Olsen joined senior C.J. Shanklin as first timers in the lineup along with returning starters Ashanti Burgess and Lucas Miller. After two losing efforts in preseason scrimmages versus Oldham County and Bowling Green, the Tigers were desperately hoping they could find a rhythm early.
St. X never really established a rhythm, but it didn’t phase McKim at all. The point guard finished with 15 points on 1-5 shooting and 13-14 free throw shooting. He got to the rim early and often and was money when he got there. He wasn’t phased by a loud crowd on the road either, as he swished 6-6 shots at the charity stripe in the final 30 seconds of the game to put the nail in the coffin.
“I honestly felt great,” McKim said about his clutch free throws. “I’ve thought about times like that a lot, on the road and needing to hit free throws to seal the game. I was just thinking, ‘Take your time and win this game.'”
If you look at the box score, both Central and St. X looked very similar; both teams shot horribly from long range, both teams had a ton of turnovers, and both teams had almost the exact same rebound total.
But the Tigers routed the Jackets in one category: free throw shooting. St. X had more than doubled the amount of attempts Central had, and the Tigers converted those extra scoring opportunities at an 85% team clip. The difference in the game was the charity stripe.
The game started with a technical foul before tip-off for the third year in a row when Central was assessed a uniform violation for not wearing white jerseys as the home team. McKim drained the two freebies to begin his eventful night at the line.
The first quarter was back-and-forth the whole way, and the score was knotted up at 16 after the buzzer sounded.
St. X controlled the second quarter on the shoulders of Olsen, who poured in 10 of his team-high 16 points. Senior Tiger guard Josh Rudy turned the game around for the Tigers on a brilliant play early in the quarter. He took an inbounds pass, broke Central’s full-court press, and picked up his dribble just after passing halfcourt. He was immediately double-teamed, and just when it looked like he was going to turn it over on a five-second call, he whipped it across the court to Miller for a wide-open layup that gave the Tigers a big burst of energy.
St. X lead by 7 at halftime, but the Jackets turned the tables in the third period by holding the Tigers to just 7 points and tying the score at 47.
But McKim’s decisive play and Rudy’s deceptively-effective 20 minutes off the bench helped guide St. X the rest of the way. Rudy only had 3 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal, but he did not turn the ball over at all and brought a calming presence to the floor when the pressure was ratcheting up.
Shanklin started his first regular season game back after tearing his left ACL in a summer AAU game in during the summer of his junior year. It will be especially tough for him to get back in the swing of things because not only is he adjusting to the feel of the game after being injured for a long time, but he also has to become accustomed to playing in the post when he is naturally a guard.
“It was hard getting back to the speed of a real game and also the atmosphere,” Shanklin explained. “I was a little nervous at the beginning, but I started to adjust and get a good feel for the game again. I didn’t really think about it being my first game back.”
Shanklin finished with 8 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals in 23 minutes of action in what was production that will almost surely increase as he grows more accustomed to his role. He said he needs to work on being more aggressive and putting the ball on the floor going forward.
The Tigers now sit at 1-0 on the young season with their next game against district rival Collegiate. That game will be St. X’s home opener, and it is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday night in the Bro. John Wills Arena.
Posted on December 3, 2014, in Tiger Basketball and tagged Ashanti Burgess, C.J. Shanklin, Connor McKim, Josh Rudy, The Central Game, Tiger Basketball, Will Olsen. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.