GREENVILLE – For three quarters Saturday night, the St. Elizabeth boys’ basketball team had things pretty much their way against the homestanding A.I. DuPont Tigers. The Vikings led by a healthy 20 points heading into the final eight minutes, but they would soon find out how fast a lead can disappear.
The Tigers turned up the defensive pressure on St. Elizabeth, forcing several turnovers that were converted into points. Led by junior Julius Inge, A.I. ran off 14 straight points in the first four minutes of the fourth, cutting the lead to 51-45. The Vikings, however, regained their composure, stopping the bleeding and going on to a 62-53 win in the championship game of the A.I. DuPont Tip-off Tournament.
Inge had five field goals in the fourth, including a three-pointer. He had help from sophomore Kevin Dent, who scored seven points in the fourth, including four of four from the free throw line. But in the end, the Tigers could not complete the comeback.
“I think their pressure forced us to rush, to speed up a little bit,” junior Jordan Money said. “It forced turnovers and bad passes. We had to calm down, get ourselves together a little bit.”
Even up 20, Vikings coach Dick Rago was not comfortable. He said the Tigers had wiped out a double-digit deficit on Friday night in their win against Christiana.
“A 20-point lead against them is nothing. That’s what I told our kids. They were going to come back,” he said. “They were down last night by 11 points, and then all of a sudden they were up by 15. They can score. They get you into their running game, and we’ve got some inexperience, and that inexperience showed, but we were able to grab it and do what we had to do.”
Money led the Vikings with 21 points on his way to the all-tournament team, but the junior guard had plenty of help from a deep Vikings roster. Sophomore forward Chris Cropper scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half, including the layup that ended the Tigers’ scoring streak to begin the fourth. Senior Joey Carrow added two short jumpers to help push the visitors to a 2-0 record on the young season.
The Tigers led just once, at 3-1 when senior forward Chetor Carter drained a three-pointer. But St. Elizabeth unleashed its offense after that, with Money cutting for a layup, followed by a floater from just inside the free-throw line by junior Elijah Dockery. The Vikings’ defense was just as fierce, as they blocked several shots and steadily built their lead. They held a 21-8 advantage after a quarter.
A.I. was down by as much as 18 early in the second, but they went on a 7-1 run to close the gap to 12. Two free throws and a layup off a dribble drive by Money restored a 16-point advantage at intermission. Cropper was the catalyst in the third, at one point scoring six straight points overall and eight straight for St. Elizabeth.
Rago said Cropper, whose football season ended a few weeks ago, is playing well and will get better as he gets back into basketball. The coach has great hopes for Cropper.
“Cropper isn’t even halfway there. I’m going to love to see it when he is. He’s just getting back to the feel of basketball. In another month, he’s going to be shooting 15-footers, he’s going to be going to the basket. He’s a beast inside. And he’s working hard,” he said.
Vikings sophomore forward Nate Thomas, who scored seven points on Saturday, was named to the all-tournament team and the event’s most valuable player. Carrow also had seven for St. E’s, which has its home opener on Thursday at 7 p.m. against Concord.
For the Tigers (1-1), Inge led three players in double figures with 15, while Carter had 14 and Dent 12. They visit St. Georges on Tuesday at 6:15 p.m.