With January’s abundance of snow and sub-zero temperatures creating a 10-day void between basketball games for Central Catholic, the Irish were understandably sluggish upon their return to the court Friday night at Whitmer.
Regardless of whether it was pretty, the Irish did enough right to grab an early lead against a young Panther squad and cruise to a 55-38 Three Rivers Athletic Conference victory to stay within a game of first-place St. John’s Jesuit.
“When you get into February, you want to be peaking at the right time,” Central coach Jim Welling said. “We’ve missed a lot of school, and now we have to play a lot of games in a short period of time.
“I’m hoping we can get our little mojo back, but it’s going to take some time and some work. Somehow you’ve got to knock the rust off, and I thought tonight we did that.”
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Marcus Winters paced a balanced Central attack with 13 points, Nate Harris had 11 points and nine rebounds, and DeShone Kizer and Jermiah Braswell added 10 points apiece.
“We just all had to get back on the floor and practice,” Harris said. “If we can fix our flaws, we’ll be fine.
“There was good and bad tonight, but the point is we have to fix the bad and turn it into good. Everybody played their role tonight, and I thought that was important in getting this win. There’s still a whole lot of basketball left.”
The Irish (12-2, 7-1 TRAC) closed the first quarter with an 11-2 run to take a 16-7 lead and never looked back, despite committing 18 turnovers.
That was one less giveaway than rebuilding Whitmer (6-10, 4-6), which started three sophomores and had a freshman (D.J. Triplett) see significant game time.
Winters got off to a hot start, scoring nine of his points less than four minutes into the game.
The Panthers, who trailed by as many as 12 points during the second quarter, pulled within 26-20 on Triplett’s 3-pointer with 1 minute, 15 seconds left in the first half.
“It was just spurty,” Welling said of his team’s play. “For two minutes it would be pretty good, and then another two minutes we looked lethargic and not into it.”
Kizer’s cross-court, back-door feed to Montrese Marshall for a layup sent Central to the break ahead 28-20, and Whitmer was still within 30-22 midway through a sloppy third quarter until Irish sophomore backup guard Andrew Grombacher staged his own personal mini-run to break things open.
Grombacher hit a 15-footer from the right baseline with 3:59 left in the third, added a 3-pointer 45 seconds later, then capped his 7-0 surge with a pair of free throws with 2:25 left in the quarter for a 37-22 Irish edge.
Whitmer got no closer than 12 points the rest of the way, and Central had its biggest lead at 51-28 when Braswell drove the right baseline for a bucket with 4:18 to play.
“I liked our defensive effort,” first-year Whitmer coach Ryan Brown said. “Going into the fourth quarter [Central] only had 40 points. But we only had 26. We’ve got to score more.
“We’re seeing a lot of progress. We’ve got some young kids and they’re stepping up. With young kids there’s going to be inconsistency. Some games they’re really good, and some games they struggle.”
Central was 21 of 43 (49 percent) from the field, just 10 of 20 from the foul line, and matched Whitmer’s 33 rebounds.
The Panthers shot a chilly 13 of 46 (28 percent) from the field and just 9 of 17 at the line.
Whitmer were led by sophomore Kemontrece Collins, who had team highs with 14 points and seven rebounds in defeat. Triplett and sophomore Sam Hickey added six points each for the Panthers.
“We’re still in it,” Welling said of the TRAC race. “It’s coming down to the stretch, so we’ll see if we’ve got enough in the tank to do anything in the league.”