After watching Buchtel erase a seven-point halftime deficit to tie the game, St. Vincent-St. Mary boys basketball coach Dru Joyce III had specific instructions for his team in the break before the fourth quarter Saturday.
It wasn’t about defense. It wasn’t about rebounding. It wasn’t about turnovers.
“Hey, get the ball to Lorenzo,” Joyce said. “He hasn’t had many touches. He’s our best player. Let’s see what happens.”
What happened was a 13-point fourth quarter from senior Lorenzo Cugini, including 7-of-8 shooting from the line, allowing the Fighting Irish to pull away from the Griffins for a 64-52 nonconference win.
Cugini finished with a team-high 17 points to go with 17 rebounds. Jordan Hargrove and Nick Wells each scored 15 as the Irish improved to 8-6.
“I finally got the ball and I thought, ‘OK, I have to help us win,’?” Cugini said. “Buchtel’s a great team. They run so much. But we kept our composure.”
With the score tied at 42 early in the fourth, Cugini scored eight of the visiting Irish’s next 14 points.
That included a 3-point play and five free throws, giving the Irish a 56-47 lead. Inside baskets from D.J. Blanks and Franshon Bickley in the final two minutes ended Buchtel’s hopes.
The Griffins, coming off a big win over Kenmore on Friday night, fall to 6-5 overall. Elijah Bell, out until just a few weeks ago with an injury, led the Griffins with 20 points. Erron Cosey added 10.
Bell had 10 points in the third quarter as the Griffins finally caught the Irish. They forced eight Irish turnovers and, despite a large height disadvantage, outrebounded the Irish 7-5 in the quarter. Bell scored while being fouled on a drive to the basket with 21 seconds left in the third, but missed the ensuing free throw, leaving the score 40-40.
As the Irish were pulling away in the fourth quarter, the Griffins were just 4-of-10 from the floor.
“We didn’t attack,” Buchtel coach Stephen White said. “In no way, shape or form did we try to drive at them. And once we would get something going good, something would happen. We’d turn the ball over. We’d miss a layup. We’d miss a rebound. Then in the fourth quarter, they got a lot of foul shots.”
The Irish had leads of 8-0 and 11-2 in the first quarter, but then started missing shots as the Griffins crept back into the game, trailing 13-8.
Two baskets from Wells at the end of the second quarter finally gave the Irish some breathing room at halftime, leading 27-20.
The Griffins cut their deficit to three points three times in the third quarter before a baseline drive and dunk by Jalen Ruffin made it 35-34 for the Irish. That was soon followed by Bell’s 3-point opportunity that tied the game at 40.
“Elijah had 20 points, but everybody else had six,” White said. “We can’t have that.”
The Irish outrebounded the Griffins 40-30, and although they didn’t repeatedly attack the post, Cugini and Wells provided most of their scoring from inside.
“[Cugini] had a mismatch, and we exploited that,” Joyce said. “We went to him and he got a bucket. It wasn’t hard to do. He’s our leader and you have to get the ball to your leader.”
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