Boys’ basketball can be a strange game, just ask St. Francis coach Ryan Hauge.
Since an 11-0 start to the season, the Fighting Saints can’t shake losses, going 0-6. The latest was a 73-67 defeat at Spring Lake Park in a North Suburban Conference contest Jan. 29.
The Panthers have not won a lot recently either, dropping three straight games before returning to form against North Branch (76-35) Jan. 25.
“We haven’t been a happy locker room,” Panthers junior guard TC Robinson said after a game-high 21 points Tuesday. “We cut out all the little rituals and we’re straight back down to business. Hard work at practice and stop trying to impress people. We’re doing it for us.”
Teammates Trevor Hall had 17 points and Robert Ben had 16 points to key the win to move the Panthers to 11-7 overall.
The Saints led 29-23 with 3:54 left in the opening half after junior Nate Svihel scored the team’s first eight points, equaling the Panthers through the early moments.
The Saints’ careless play with the basketball caught up to them as they had 26 turnovers, which helped the home side attempt 17 more baskets.
Spring Lake Park worked its pressure defense and transition offense to lead 31-29 in the final minute of the half. After a great hustle play to keep the ball in bounds, Robinson won the race to the loose ball near mid-court. He drove the lane to draw St. Francis away from the basket before dishing the ball off to Ben, a senior guard, who went strong to the hoop across the baseline. The entire play unfolded in front of the Spring Lake Park student section, which erupted after the ball dropped through the hoop.
Robinson added a three-pointer after another St. Francis turnover seconds later to make it 34-29 at the half.
As Spring Lake Park coach Grant Guzy said, his team has been a second-half squad all season. “I don’t know why that is,” he said. “It was a game of runs early on and we were fortunate enough to make the last run of the half and carry that through the second half.”
Guzy praised the role Ben played in the second half to attack the hoop.
“When he plays like that, everyone else follows his lead,” Guzy said
Post Justin Axelson turned in one of his best performances of the season, while senior guard Trevor Hall made some key baskets and passes at the end to stay ahead, he said.
The Saints couldn’t reignite that fire from the opening minutes down the stretch, despite every attempt by junior guard Cody Wold to get the team going.
“He’s just a floor general and a true point guard for us,” Hauge said. “Can’t ask for anyone to give more of himself no matter if it’s working or not.”
Wold finished with 14 points and five Saints scored in double digits. Svihel led the way with 16 points, while 6-8 junior Jake Johnson and 6-5 sophomore Blake Moreno each had 11 points.
Moreno left the game with 7:47 remaining after twisting an ankle under the Saints basket. He didn’t return to the floor, but came back to the bench minutes later.
Hauge said he didn’t put Moreno back in because he wanted to stick with the shooters.
He described the losses as a combination of facing adversity with two key players out of the lineup combined with the toughest portion of the schedule. “For the first time this year, they’ve faced adversity and didn’t handle having guys out too well,” Hauge said. “We haven’t played the same quality of basketball as we did earlier in the season and we’re playing good teams.”
Austin Carlson continues to recover from the flu, while Gabe Nelson missed three games because of violating a team rule.
Despite the losses, the team remains positive, Hauge said. “They keep a good attitude,” he said. “As the saying goes, ‘There is winning and misery.’ But we have high character kids and tonight we played well but the turnovers were the difference.”
Coaches vs. Cancer
This time of the year is known as Coaches versus Cancer for high school and college basketball programs across the country. Spring Lake Park not only wore hot pink and hot green shoe laces, but fans helped raise $840 during halftime. The pink symbolizes cancer awareness, while the green symbolizes support for junior Tanner Ylvisaker, who is a T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma survivor.
The Panthers will wear the special laces at Totino-Grace Feb. 1.
Each head coach also wore sneakers with their suit and tie, similar to what Gophers coach Tubby Smith and Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan did Saturday.
Money raised from the event was donated to the American Cancer Society.