MILLTOWN – St. Mark’s wanted to get off to a fast start on March 1 against Indian River, but what transpired in the first quarter had to surprise even the Spartans. They shut out the Indians, 15-0, in the opening quarter and were never threatened in a 57-21 victory in the first round of the DIAA boys basketball tournament.
In their final appearance on their home court, seniors Chris Ludman and Billy Sullivan led the way. Each scored four points in that first quarter and continued to bedevil Indian River throughout the game. Ludman finished with a team-leading 21 points, and Sullivan had 14.
“We haven’t had a state home game in a while, so it was good for the fans. We played excellent tonight, a great team effort,” Sullivan said.
“It’s great to get a win in the playoffs in our last home game,” Ludman added. “Good to go out on a win.”
St. Mark’s, the 15th seed in the 24-team bracket, had the Indians’ number from the opening tap. The patient Spartans took the opening tip and held the ball for nearly a minute before Ludman started the scoring with a putback on a rebound of a missed three-point shot. Following a steal and a 13-footer by junior guard Matt Tynes that increased the lead to 8-0, Indian River called a timeout, but the streak continued.
Out of the break, Ludman and Sullivan each scored in transition, and Brian Gilardi drained St. Mark’s lone three-pointer of the evening. Meanwhile, there seemed to be a lid on the basket when the Indians were on offense, and they struggled with the Spartans’ tight defense.
Ludman began the second quarter by taking a pass underneath for another layup, and the lead grew to 17-0. Indian River, the 18th seed, got on the board on a Colby Chandler free throw, followed by a three-pointer by K.J. Curtis, but those were the only points the Indians would score in the half. The lead for the Spartans at intermission was 18.
“The team really set the tone right from the start. A 15-0 lead is always a good start,” Sullivan said.
The Indians hit four field goals in the third quarter, including the first of Chandler’s two triples, but the Spartans increased the distance between the squads. Ludman scored eight points in the third, including four free throws. St. Mark’s shot 26 free throws in the second half as three Indians fouled out, making 17 of them.
The comfortable lead gave Spartans coach Nick Sanna the opportunity to pull his starters with several minutes remaining, giving them some extra rest heading into their second-round game on Friday against No. 2 St. Thomas More at 7 p.m. at Polytech High School. The game will pit the defensive-minded Spartans against the high-scoring Ravens, who were at St. Mark’s on Wednesday to scout their opponent.
“We practice it every day: defense, defense, defense,” Sullivan said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Two other Catholic schools also play Friday at 7 p.m. No. 3 Salesianum hosts No. 19 Caravel, while seventh-seeded St. Elizabeth is home against No. 11 Sanford.
Chandler had eight points for Indian River, whose season ended at 12-9.