By Larry Moko
The St. Thomas More Knights played their most forgettable quarter of basketball this season on Tuesday but still managed to pull out a victory to remain undefeated and alone in first place.
More (9-0) was outscored 21-2 in the second quarter by the St. John Henry Newman Cardinals and went into the dressing room trailing, 36-29.
The visiting Knights regrouped at the half, however, and went on to a hard-fought 62-51 win.
“I thought we opened up OK, but the second quarter was probably our worst of the season,” More coach Stef Giovannangeli said. “Everything we emphasize in practice we just ignored. Luckily, a switch went on for the guys and they decided to buy back in again.
“It was a tough game.”
Colin Ball and Zuriel Mhlongo led the Knights in scoring with 17 and 15 points, respectively. Basam Bilal contributed 12 and Sebastian Reyes added seven.
For the Cardinals, Markus Palermo tossed in five three-pointers in the first half and finished with a game-high 20 points. Alex Vanegas, with 11, and Alex DiFrancesco, with 10, were the other top scorers for Newman (4-5).
The Cardinals held an eight-point lead early in the third quarter before Ball’s five straight points made the score 45-45 heading into the fourth.
A three-point basket by Reyes broke a 51-51 tie with one minute, 42 seconds remaining and the Knights then capped the scoring with eight more unanswered points.
Giovannangeli said boxing out and the rebounding of 6-foot-7, 290-pound centre Akeem Maxwell were key to the outcome.
“Akeem gave us some extra minutes and he was able to do a good job on the boards,” Giovannangeli said. “We ask him to control the boards for us. Obviously he has a physical advantage over others.
“Akeem has worked hard on his conditioning. He’s continued to get better at that and is giving us more minutes.”
Maxwell started playing basketball at age 6 and, despite his impressive size, isn’t attracted to football.
“My rebounding stopped them from getting the second-chance points and it helped change the game around,” Maxwell said. “I don’t usually hit many shots but today I did. I think it was a deep two.”
Newman has lost three times to More this season, but Cardinals coach Victor Raso is encouraged by his team’s latest effort: “I think we’re getting a lot better,” he said. “(In the three games against the Knights) we’ve never held the lead like we did tonight. We’re getting closer.
“It was just those moments where they were a bit tougher than us.”
According to Raso, he wants the Cardinal two-sport veterans to “change the narrative” this season. “Newman for the last couple of years has gotten to football and basketball championship games and hasn’t won,” he said.
In other Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic high school league action, the second-place Cathedral Gaels (8-1) edged the Bishop Tonnos Titans, 56-51, and the Bishop Ryan Celtics topped the St. Mary Crusaders, 65-33.
Tonnos, More and Cathedral are three of the 16 teams entered in this weekend’s Silver Fox Invitational tournament at Glendale and Saltfleet District. Cathedral is the defending champion.