The Gloucester Catholic boys' basketball players will tell you they had the pace of their game with Cherry Hill East exactly where they wanted it at the end of one quarter.
That said, East held a four-point lead and, desperate for its first win in three games this season, needed only one good run to get the game to where it needed by halftime.
In the most obvious of ways, a stretch of 22 consecutive points that bridged the opening two quarters did that as host Cherry Hill East beat Gloucester Catholic, 48-39, yesterday afternoon. The Cougars (1-2) opened the second quarter with an 18-0 run that put the Rams (1-1) all but out of the game because of their deliberate style of offense.
"We wanted to play at a slow pace," Catholic coach Todd Powers said. "And really, after one quarter, we were only down, 8-4. But this is an intimidating place, and it's a game that we can learn from. We had our looks, but didn't get the baskets in the second quarter, and then had to play at a faster pace in the second half. I won't say we can't come from behind, but we're much better suited to playing out in front."
"If you look at our team, we're not big inside," Cherry Hill coach John Valore said. "We don't have the rebounding that some other teams have. You saw what their big kid [Colin Kelly] did. If some of those shots go in, we have a different game."
But those shots didn't go in, and East exploited 13 first-half turnovers by Gloucester Catholic to build a lead that reached 26-4 before Catholic scored its first basket of the second quarter, with 2:37 left in the half. East, coming off a pair of tough losses to open the season, used a two-pronged attack, with well-known junior Chris Santo and under-the-radar sophomore Marc Schlessel.
Santo, considered one of the top big men in South Jersey, fought off early foul trouble to score 10 of his game-high 19 points in the first half, including eight in the second quarter.
"Really, a win is a win," said Santo, who also had nine rebounds. "This is big for us. We have a brutal schedule after New Year's, and we need every game we can get to prepare for the next 2 months."
"He's a special player," Valore said. "That's why I was upset he got those two early fouls. We need him out there. We have some young kids who are looking to fill a role for us."
On this day, one such player was Schlessel, who chipped in 15 points, including a pair of big three-pointers in the third when Catholic began to chip away at the deficit.
"We just needed a win," Schlessel said. "Gloucester Catholic is a good team, and they just happened to go flat in the second quarter. We did what we had to do, and that's the most important thing."
For the Rams, this certainly could be seen as a missed opportunity, especially with LEAP Academy Charter and Williamstown slated for later in the week at this holiday tournament at East. Williamstown looked especially strong in the afternoon's first game, vs. LEAP, and won't want to play the Rams' patient style.
In turn, the Rams will have to shoot better than they did in this game, including less that 25 percent in the first half. If they can do that, their offense, predicated on ball movement, will eventually pay dividends.
"They played a tough [two-three] zone, and to beat that, you have to make your shots," Powers said. "I think we had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, but didn't convert. It's just something we have to do better." *
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