Freshman VJ King started slow but made all the important free throws and senior Fransohn Bickley played well in a starting role as St. Vincent-St. Mary outlasted Cleveland Benedictine 75-67 at home Friday night.

King was ice cold from the floor, shooting just 1-of-8 from 3-point range, but scored nine points in the fourth quarter and made four free throws in the final minute to keep the Bengals at bay. With less than 40 seconds left in the game, King was sent to the free-throw line with the Fighting Irish leading 69-67 and then 71-67, and made both attempts each time. He finished the night with 21 points, three rebounds and two steals.

But as King struggled to find his shot and the Bengals took it right at the teeth of the Irish defense, it was St. V-M’s 5-foot-8 point guard who spurred the offense. Bickley, who started due to junior Jarel Woolridge being late, came through in a big way with a game-high 24 points on 10-of-11 shooting, and also had four offensive rebounds that led to four baskets.

“It’s encouraging because he’s a winner,” St. V-M coach Dru Joyce said. “You want your guys who believe and want it to step up like that. And he stepped up. That’s big stuff from him.”

Joyce was pleased with Bickley but less than happy with the Irish offense, which waited until the second half to take the ball to the rim. The score was 32-32 at halftime and the Irish had attempted just eight free throws. After putting an emphasis on getting the ball to the rim, the Irish attempted 31 free throws in the second half, only making 17 of those but making enough to overtake Benedictine.

“Everybody’s going to zone us,” Joyce said. “When you’re 4-of-18 from behind the 3-point line, that’s what teams are going to do. Once our guys saw that, it was ‘OK, let’s take it to the rim.’ If we didn’t get it finished, we got to the line.”

Benedictine (1-6) took it to St. V-M (3-5) early in the game. Led by senior Westley Parr, who finished with 17 points, and junior T.J. Steele, who had 15 points, the Bengals took an 18-13 lead that could have been much bigger had it not been for Bickley, who drilled a 3-pointer on the last play of the first quarter and another one on the first play of the second quarter to put St. V-M ahead 19-18.

Parr scored the Bengals’ first eight points. The Irish began to drive the ball right at Parr, who ended up committing his fourth foul midway through the third quarter and didn’t return until there were three minutes left in the game.

“We thought we could press them but that press gave them their first 8-10 points,” Joyce said.

Despite the Bengals’ record, Joyce knew they were going to give the Irish their best shot, just like everyone else.

“We understand the nature of St. Vincent-St. Mary, and this is the mystique of 2003, that we’re going to get everybody’s best game,” Joyce said. “When you have an inexperienced group like we have, sometimes they don’t get it. Especially the guys like Jalen [Hudson] and VJ, they don’t understand the dynamic of wearing that jersey.

“It’s like every time you put it on, teams feel like they beat LeBron James. They’re a 1-5 team, they didn’t play like it tonight. We scouted them, they didn’t look like the team that came out tonight.”

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