MILLTOWN – Down a point to St. Mark’s at halftime, the Salesianum boys basketball team felt pretty good about how they were playing and just needed some shots to start falling. That is precisely what happened in the third and fourth quarters as the Sals grabbed a road victory over the Spartans, 56-39, on Jan. 20.
The Spartans held an 18-17 advantage at the break, but that didn’t last long. Salesianum forward Paul Brown took the opening possession of the third quarter and converted an old-fashioned three-point play to give the Sals the lead for good. Brown wasn’t done, making two free throws and a field goal in the first minutes of the second half to push the Sals’ lead to 24-18. Those six points were part of a 13-2 run to open the third as the advantage grew to 30-20.
Salesianum coach Brendan Haley said he didn’t see a reason to make too many adjustments at halftime.
“We liked the way we were playing in that first half,” he said. “Sometimes, the ball going through the net just does worlds for confidence. We found a lineup that seemed to have a good rhythm, and once we found that we just stuck with it. We played maybe six, seven guys.”
St. Mark’s Billy Sullivan struck with back-to-back field goals, but Salesianum’s Jack Brown responded with his second three-pointer of the quarter to make it 33-24 headed into the fourth. The Brown brothers accounted for 13 of the team’s 16 points in the third.
Senior guard Mike Kempski, who led the Sals with 14 points, said his team always enjoys playing in the charged atmosphere they find at St. Mark’s. On Friday, the St. Mark’s students filled the end bleachers dressed in red, white and blue to mark the presidential inauguration, and they had only nice things to say to the visiting team.
“We love coming here. We love the atmosphere every time we come. It’s awesome,” Kempski said. “In the second half, we were just tougher with the ball. No turnovers. We made our foul shots. That’s what we wanted to do.”
St. Mark’s cut a 14-point deficit to eight at 44-36 about four minutes into the fourth quarter thanks to a pair of free throws by Zach Palmer, a short field goal from Sullivan and a layup after a nice spin move by Chris Ludman. But the Sals kept the Spartans at bay with impressive free-throw shooting, making 13 of 14 in the quarter and 18 of 21 for the night. It is an aspect of their game that has been missing for much of the season.
“That’s not been us. That was huge. We’ve been waiting for that kind of game,” Haley said.
“We’ve been working on that all week,” added Kempski, who made three of four attempts. “We’re not known as a strong free-throw shooting team this year. No doubt, we came in clutch.”
The Sals were playing without center Tariq Ingraham. Kempski said the team had to switch its approach from outside-in to more of a perimeter game, and they relied more on Paul Brown and Brett Henshey to pick up the slack in the paint.
Haley did not address the specific reason why Ingraham was absent but said the sophomore could return before season’s end.
“He’s going to get some things taken care of, and we’re behind him 100 percent. He’s one of us. We’ll be fine,” he said.
Salesianum bounced back with its second straight wins after two losses. They begin a tough four-game stretch on Tuesday at 5:30 at Sanford. Haley knows his team will have its hands full with the Warriors.
“(The St. Mark’s win) is a huge confidence builder,” he said. “(Sanford is) a great team, great coach, great player. I saw Jyare (Davis) the last couple games. He’s terrific. So we’ll have to think about how we’re going to handle him and them.”
The Brown brothers each scored 12 points for Salesianum, which improved to 7-4.
For St. Mark’s (6-3), Palmer led the way with 13, including a pair of three-point shots, and Sullivan added 10. The Spartans open a three-game road trip on Monday at 5:15 p.m. at Wilmington Christian.