The St. Ignatius boys’ basketball team’s defensive strategy against rival Sacred Heart Cathedral in front of a capacity crowd at USF on Tuesday was simple.
Let the Irish shoot.
The Wildcats sagged off the Irish and let them take open looks on the perimeter, and the strategy worked, allowing St. Ignatius to take back the Bruce-Mahoney trophy with a 56-46 win.
Sacred Heart (9-4, 2-1 West Catholic Athletic League) shot 2-of-16 overall and 0-of-8 in the first half from 3-point range, while the Wildcats (11-2, 2-1) was 7-of-13 from long distance. If not for two second-half 3-pointers from Sacred Heart senior point guard Khalil James, the Irish would have missed all of their attempts from distance.
“We wanted to keep them outside,” said St. Ignatius senior guard Albert Waters, who hit two 3-pointers and had a team-high 12 points to go along with a game-high three steals. “This is a college-level 3-point line, so our idea was to keep them out there and let them shoot. If we let them drive, that would give us trouble.”
Waters was one of three St. Ignatius shooting guards that hit multiple 3-pointers, along with seniors Daniel MacLean-Vernic and Matt Brown, who was the only other St. Ignatius player to score in double figures with 11 points.
“It is hard to shoot in this gym,” St. Ignatius coach Tim Reardon said. “That’s why it’s ridiculous that we made seven 3s. The line is back a little bit further and this backdrop makes it really difficult.”
The Irish appeared to be ready for the task early in the game and held a lead until St. Ignatius point guard Trevor Dunbar scored the final six points of the first quarter to give the Wildcats a 14-8 lead that they would not relinquish.
The Irish never seemed to settle in after that and kept a similar-sized lead the rest of the way. Senior guard Herman Pratt led the Irish with 12 points, including six in the fourth quarter, but they never got closer than a three-point margin, which came early in the second half.
“It wasn’t about strategy,” Sacred Heart coach Darrell Barbour said. “I never know how my kids are going to play in this game. We come in here 2-0, playing pretty good. The atmosphere, the culture of this whole thing. It’s just different. You can’t compare it to anything. If you don’t handle that, which we did not, you will not play well.”