Two unbeaten boys basketball teams entered Central Catholic’s Sullivan Center Saturday night, and the host Irish stayed perfect with a 56-42 victory over Anthony Wayne.
Nate Harris, Central’s 6-foot-6 junior forward, had team-highs of 14 points and seven rebounds as the Irish, preseason favorites to win the Three Rivers Athletic Conference, moved to 5-0.
Harris was well complemented by 6-foot-5 seniors Deontae Cole and Keith Towbridge, who added 11 and 10 points, respectively,
“I liked our defensive intensity and our ball movement,” Irish coach Jim Welling said. “I think our overall team effort was good.
“In the first half we really forced Anthony Wayne out of their offense by getting up in the passing lanes, and our defensive rebounding was really good.”
Anthony Wayne (6-1), favored to win the Northern Lakes League, got a game-high 15 points from 6-10 senior post player Mark Donnal, all after halftime, and senior sub Ose Omofoma added 11 points.
Central jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead on Cole’s 3-pointer and a steal and layup from Harris in the opening minute, and the Irish never trailed in the game.
When Cole hit his second of three 3-pointers, and senior guard C.J. Bussey added another 3-pointer with five seconds left in the first quarter, Central took an 18-6 advantage to the second period.
The Irish netted five of their six 3-pointers in the game in the opening half, including four in the first quarter.
“We got some good looks early, and a lot of that was playing inside-outside,” Welling said. “When we move the ball and understand where defenses are vulnerable, we can go inside-outside or just inside.”
The other key factors in building its lead was Central’s aggressive man-to-man defense — which made it difficult for AW to execute its offense — and Donnal’s early foul trouble.
Donnal went to the bench in the opening minute after picking up a quick foul, returned, then drew foul No. 2 with 1:21 left in the first quarter. When Central, which was able to do significant offensive damage during that stretch, took a 29-14 lead to the break after Harris took a feed from point guard DeShone Kizer (seven points) and threw down a two-handed dunk just before the first-half buzzer.
“Before the game, coach told us we had to get pressure on them,” Harris said. “We had to force them to make turnovers, and that’s what we did. We had some open looks, and coach always says, ‘if you’re open, shoot the ball.’"
AW was able to make small runs in the third and fourth quarters, but got no closer than 10 points.
The Generals best hope for a rally came early in the fourth, when Donnal converted a three-point play with 6:27 remaining, and Omofoma came up with a steal and a two-handed dunk 16 seconds later to trim Central’s edge to 44-34.
But Towbridge answered with a layup and, after Donnal hit one of two free throws, Harris and Bussey (nine points) converted inside baskets to put the Irish up 50-35 with 2:47 to play.
“I think all four quarters killed us,” AW coach Bryan Borcherdt said. “That was not 32 minutes of Anthony Wayne basketball. That’s the biggest disappointment.
“We have to look ourselves in the mirror and understand what we did not do. They came out and hit a 3-pointer and then got a steal and a layup, and we didn’t show up tonight. We’ll use this as a learning tool and we’ll get better.”
Central shot 53 percent (23-of-43) from the field, as did AW (16-of-30), but the two biggest statistical advantages were the 24-13 rebounding edge for the Irish, who committed just nine turnovers while forcing 15.