CANTON: St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Dru Joyce admitted he was calling on a cliche, saying that in these tournament games, “It’s all about defense.”
But the age-old catch-phrase that defense wins championships came about for a reason, and Joyce loved what he saw in St. V-M’s controlling, defensive-driven Division II regional semifinal win over Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy 54-37 on Thursday night at the Canton Civic Center.
The Irish (18-9) never allowed the Royals (24-3) any room to operate. After only a six-point first quarter for CVCA, St. V-M held the Royals without a field goal in the second quarter. At halftime, St. V-M had only surrendered 10 points and had a 24-10 lead.
“Our guys played focused, we played patient, we defended every possession,” Joyce said. “I was real pleased with the focus and the attitude that the kids brought.”
CVCA coach Jay Peters knows that against a team as talented as St. V-M, chances can’t be thrown away. The Royals were able to come away with a couple of offensive rebounds early but couldn’t convert those extra chances into points.
“We missed a bunch of shots early,” Peters said. “A couple of those go down, and we can relax a little more. You can’t get behind St. V, they’re too good to do that. You can get behind a couple points here and there, but all of a sudden you’re down 12.”
The Irish also held CVCA senior Bob Peters to 13 points. St. V-M sent a lot of attention his way. Without Peters playing his usual role in the offense, CVCA struggled to get going.
“What we tried to do was make him [Peters] have to work for everything,” Joyce said. “We believe that when you’ve got a player like that, he’s got to earn them. I felt we did a great job, we rotated different guys on him. And for the most part we took away the back-door cut he’s used to getting.”
No other Royals scorer had more than eight points (senior Alex Punka had eight).
“They put a lot of pressures on your shooters,” Peters said. “We didn’t make some shots. We made some poor decisions in the second quarter and what we were doing offensively. We were hurrying shots. Thinking about coming down and making the next shot instead of staying disciplined and running our offense. That was a big key to the game.”
On the offensive end, St. V-M freshman VJ King made two 3-pointers and a 15-footer early, quickly putting St. V-M ahead by double digits.
King finished with a game-high 18 points and four rebounds.
King, a highly-touted freshman on a national scale, is beginning to find a comfort zone in Joyce’s system. That’s making the offense run more efficiently and allowing him to score within the offense, not just on his own.
“It’s that chemistry,” Joyce said. “They’re enjoying playing with one another. They like one another. They know each other better now. When those things happen, everyone can get a little more loose and play to their strengths. He hit some big shots in the first half to really create some separation for us.”
St. V-M senior Nick Wells scored 15 points and had five rebounds, showing range with a couple of deep jumpers and adding a couple other baskets with nifty footwork inside.
St. V-M will face Warrensville Heights, which beat Cardinal Mooney 69-61, at 3 p.m. Saturday in the regional final.